AFRICOM offers details on controversial Somalia raid
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 1, 2017
STUTTGART, Germany — American and Somalian troops acted in self-defense during a firefight in August that sparked accusations of civilian casualties, U.S. Africa Command said Friday.
In a statement Friday, AFRICOM provided additional details about the Aug. 25 incident in Bariire, Somalia, in which seven enemy combatants were killed.
U.S. forces joined Somalian troops on an operation to clear an area of suspected al-Shabab militants, it said. Ahead of the mission, those forces met with local leaders in the area and “concluded the compound had been occupied by al-Shabab.”
Early in the operation, Somalia National Army soldiers were fired upon.
“The opposing force maneuvered to flank the SNA, emerging near U.S. advisors, who had deliberately remained on the periphery,” AFRICOM said.
Both U.S. and Somalian forces “acted in self-defense, resulting in the death of seven opposing forces.”
The initial advance of the SNA and the positioning of U.S. forces in the rear were chosen to minimize the possibility of collateral damage, AFRICOM said.
The direction of SNA’s advance, the compound’s isolated location and the operation’s early daytime execution reduced the likelihood that innocent civilians would be injured or killed, the command said.
AFRICOM said it could not release its full report for operational security reasons and that the final assessment remained classified.
“Right now I can tell you that we conducted a thorough, detailed assessment and concluded that allegations of civilian casualties in Bariire were not credible,” AFRICOM spokeswoman Robyn Mack said.
The command has pushed back against media reports that it was responsible for killing unarmed civilians. The Daily Beast on Wednesday, citing local farmers and unnamed officials, said U.S. troops fired at civilians, killing 10 and then staged a cover-up.
Reuters, also citing unnamed Somalia security sources, reported that survivors and relatives might have misrepresented the incident to try and gain cash settlements. The Somalia government, which consistently ranks as the world’s most corrupt, has reportedly paid out $700,000 to families in connection with the Bariire incident.
The U.S. faces a confusing battlefield in Somalia, a country confronting a violent insurgency from the militants aligned with al-Qaida and rival clans that challenges the establishment of effective central government.
Still, AFRICOM has said it regards the current government as the country’s best chance in 30 years to establish order. There are now 500 U.S. troops in the country, where 30 airstrikes have been conducted this year.