Photo: Reuters/U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Ricky Best/Handout
PENTAGON — U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) says new information reveals a woman and child were killed last year in a U.S. airstrike in Somalia, the first civilian casualties acknowledged in the U.S. military’s war against Islamist militants there.
The AFRICOM director of operations, Marine Major General Gregg Olson, said Friday that an ongoing review uncovered the civilian deaths, which went unreported for nearly a year.
“We follow the law of armed conflict and regret that this incident resulted in the loss of two innocent lives,” Olson told reporters in a teleconference. “AFRICOM is committed to transparency, and we have a solemn obligation to … the Somali people we’re trying to protect.”
Olson said AFRICOM is working with the U.S. embassy in Somalia on a way forward to potentially provide restitution for the family of the woman and child.
On April 1, 2018, a U.S. drone strike near the town of El Burr in central Somalia killed what U.S. officials initially said were five al-Shabab militants in a vehicle.
The command received an allegation of civilian casualties at the time, but determined that it was not credible.
About a week later, an “AFRICOM subordinate unit conducting counterterrorism operation in Somalia” received new information, Olson said, which prompted the team to open up its investigation.
That investigation concluded that the strike 12 months ago had actually killed the woman and child along with four al-Shabab militants.
AFRICOM said it was only informed of the new information, investigation, and discovery of civilian casualties last week, after the commander of AFRICOM, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, launched an audit of all U.S. airstrikes in Somalia since 2017.
Officials say the audit was prompted by a report by Amnesty International, which alleged that five U.S. strikes in Somalia killed at least 14 civilians, along with questions from Congress.
The command strongly rejected the rights group’s conclusions in the report.
U.S. Africa Command at the time said it looked at the five Amnesty allegations and concluded there were no civilian casualties in four of them. AFRICOM said it did not even conduct a strike at the time and place of one of the locations referenced in the report.
The strike that killed the woman and child was not one of those detailed by Amnesty International.
The United States has conducted airstrikes against al-Shabab since 2011 in support of Somalia’s government.
Daphne Eviatar, the director of the Security with Human Rights program at Amnesty International USA, Friday said, “AFRICOM’s acknowledgement of civilian casualties is an important step forward from their previous denials of any civilian deaths or injuries from U.S. airstrikes in Somalia.”