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Advocacy group accuses US military of civilian deaths in Somalia

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 1, 2019

STUTTGART, Germany — A U.S. airstrike in Somalia earlier this year killed three civilians, an international human rights organization claimed Monday, citing a new investigation.

Three men killed in a March airstrike were farmers, not terrorists belonging to the al-Shabab militant group, Amnesty International said in the report released Monday.

U.S. Africa Command disputed the report’s findings, saying a “body of multi-intelligence reporting” showed all suspects were active supporters of al-Shabab.

“U.S. Africa Command minimizes the risk to civilians by following a thorough, reasonable methodology that accounts for weapons effects and mitigates risk to civilians,” said John Manley, an AFRICOM spokesman, in a statement.

Earlier this year, Amnesty accused AFRICOM of killing 14 civilians in five airstrikes in Somalia between April 2017 and December 2018.

The latest accusation is related to a March 18 attack in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, in which an airstrike hit a passenger vehicle, killing three civilians, Amnesty said. The group interviewed relatives and business associates of the victims, who all said the men were not members of al-Shabab, the report said.

AFRICOM’s intelligence, however, included “actions observed from the vehicle” which enabled the military to arrive at “reasonable certainty the vehicle and its occupants” were al-Shabab members, the Stuttgart-based command said.

AFRICOM has conducted about 50 airstrikes in Somalia so far in 2019, more than any other year. To date, the command has acknowledged only two civilian causalities from an airstrike in 2018.

That acknowledgement was made after an internal review of airstrikes found a U.S. counterterrorism unit failed to properly report the deaths to higher headquarters.

The review was prompted in part by continued interest in civilian deaths by both Amnesty and Congress, AFRICOM has said.

In its latest report, Amnesty’s Daphne Eviatar called on the U.S. government to conduct impartial investigations into “all credible allegations of civilian casualties,” hold wrongdoers responsible, and make reparations to victims and survivors.

“It can start by establishing an accessible mechanism for Somalis to safely report civilian casualties of U.S. military operations,” said Eviatar, Amnesty USA’s director of security with human rights.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter:@john_vandiver

 

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