US airstrikes in Somalia in February killed two civilians and injured three more, the human rights group Amnesty International says in a new report, raising doubts over American investigations of such attacks.
Amnesty said a US airstrike on February 2 in the city of Jilib struck a family having a meal, killing an 18-year old girl and injuring her two younger sisters, aged 7 and 12, as well as wounding her 70-year-old grandmother.
Amnesty cited an interview with the girls’ father, who was present but uninjured in the strike. Mohamed Omar Abukar, the son of the 70-year-old woman, told Reuters his family had been devastated by the strike.
“He was very devastated, he didn’t know why his family was targeted,” Amnesty researcher Abdullahi Hassan told Reuters. “He said, ‘I’m now in my farm, alone in an open place, if they want to kill me.’”
Another strike on February 24 on the village of Kumbareere, about 10 kilometers north of Jilib, killed Mohamud Salad Mohamud, a 53-year-old father of eight who ran a farm and the local office for telecom company Hormuud, Amnesty said.
The United States Africa Command – also known as AFRICOM – issued statements after both strikes, claiming it had killed Al-Shabab militants.
“Following every airstrike, US Africa Command conducts additional analysis to ensure the military objectives were met and that there were no civilian casualties,” AFRICOM told Reuters in response to the allegations from Amnesty.
However, Amnesty researcher Hassan said Africom has not been transparent about how it investigates reports of civilian deaths. “They seem to be living in denial that the airstrikes actually kill civilians,” he said.
Al-Shabab militants were forced out of Mogadishu in 2011, but it continues to wage deadly attacks around the city and in other parts of the country.
Last March, Amnesty International said the US military may be guilty of war crimes for killing large numbers of civilians in the sharply-intensified campaign of airstrikes in Somalia over the previous two years.
The Pentagon stepped up its airstrikes in the east African nation after President Donald Trump approved expanded military operations there in 2017.
Since Trump’s inauguration, there have been at least 234 reported airstrikes in Somalia, according to Airwars, a UK-based monitor, with 43 involving allegations of civilian casualties, around half of which the group has deemed credible.
There have been many ambiguities surrounding such airstrikes and bombardments in the rural regions of Somalia, with human rights groups regularly complaining about civilian causalities.