Ilhan Omar Demands Answers on Civilian Deaths in Somalia

Ilhan Omar Demands Answers on Civilian Deaths in Somalia
Ilhan Omar Demands Answers on Civilian Deaths in Somalia  

NAIROBI, Kenya-U.S. Africa Command, known as AFRICOM, has been conducting air and ground operations, mainly targeting the al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab, in Somalia since 2007. In those 13 years it has admitted to four civilian deaths.

On the Eve of Congressional Hearings, New Evidence About Alleged U.S. Massacre in Somalia

The difference between the number of civilian casualties declared by AFRICOM compared to those recorded by organizations like Amnesty International and Airwars is so vast that it has prompted members of Congress to write directly to the American general in charge.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) is leading the initiative. The letter is co-signed by seven other Democratic representatives, all of them chairs of relevant committees and subcommittees, including Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Adam Smith (D-WA), the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

The letter, shared exclusively with The Daily Beast, requests that the military clarify how it investigatives civilian casualty allegations. It suggests that an explanation of the research process might help explain the discrepancy between the figures reported by human rights organizations and the numbers acknowledged by the military. It also reminds AFRICOM that providing clarity about the reasons for discrepancies and defining who the military considers a "combatant" is required by recent legislation passed by Congress as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, Section 1703.

Allegations of civilian casualties in Somalia have increased since the Trump administration gave AFRICOM commanders more flexibility to carry out offensive strikes against suspected militants in 2017.

With the loosened restrictions, there's been a steady drumbeat of reports of civilian deaths documented by international human rights organizations, local and foreign journalists, Somali politicians and officials.

Omar was born in Somalia and there is a significant Somali diaspora in her Minnesota constituency.

AFRICOM's efforts to degrade the military capabilities of al Shabaab "are greatly welcomed by most Somalis, but they seem to be rushing at targets blindly, without proper intelligence resulting in many civilian deaths and a public outcry," Hussein Sheikh-Ali, the national security adviser and counterterrorism adviser to the current and former presidents of Somalia, told The Daily Beast.

With testimonial evidence, corroborating accounts and expert analysis of images and video from strike sites, satellite imagery, and weapons identification, Amnesty International has investigated nine airstrikes, and of those nine incidents found 21 civilians dead and 11 injured.

Analyzing all strikes and ground operations via official AFRICOM statements, open-source information on social media and internal military documents obtained by journalists with the Freedom of Information Act, London-based airstrike monitoring group Airwars estimates that up to 142 civilians have been killed in the 227 declared actions the U.S. has conducted since 2007.

"We urge you to, wherever possible and consistent with the need to protect classified information, provide detail on how assessments are made and acknowledge where they may differ from the assessments of credible, independent non-governmental organizations and others," says the letter, addressed to U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the chief of U.S. Africa Command. "When reporting comes from credible and sophisticated NGOs with cultural and linguistic capacity, civilian casualty reports are not easily dismissed."

At the end of March, the command committed to issuing quarterly reports on civilian casualty allegations in Africa. The announcement was met with cautious optimism. "We welcome this step to provide increased transparency and public accounting of U.S. military operations and as part of our national commitment to minimizing civilian casualties," the letter reads.

Last week AFRICOM released the first report. It said in the last 14 months it had conducted 91 airstrikes in Somalia and Libya (of those 87 were conducted in Somalia, four in Libya, LT Christina M. Gibson, a spokesperson for AFRICOM explained to The Daily Beast in an email). Of those 91 airstrikes AFRICOM received "70 allegations of about 27 separate possible civilian casualty incidents with approximately 90 alleged civilian casualties."

Of those 27 incidents, one was acknowledged to have caused civilian casualties. Seven incidents are still under review. The rest AFRICOM considered to be "unsubstantiated."

The report did not mention any claims of civilian casualties in ground raids. U.S. Special Forces regularly carry out raids with Somali soldiers belonging to the Danab Brigade, who are supposed to be highly trained commandos. AFRICOM told The Daily Beast it does not conduct assessments of civilian casualty claims related to partner forces, although it would investigate if a U.S. service member was directly accused. Airwars has reported 14 incidents with civilian casualty allegations from ground raids.

The response to the first installment of AFRICOM's report was less enthusiastic in some quarters. "The report was a disappointment," Sheikh-Ali said. "It fell short of any meaningful engagement with the concerned population."

As the congressional letter notes, AFRICOM has not explained how it investigates civilian casualty claims, saying for security concerns it cannot go into detail about its methodology. Amnesty International has found the U.S. military does not speak to witnesses, family members, friends or colleagues of the deceased even when their contact information has been shared.

Luke Hartig, the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council from 2013 to 2017 confirmed that AFRICOM does not speak to witnesses or family members, and said, "This produces a significant gap in their ability to gather local knowledge in support of their assessments." He noted that organizations like Amnesty and Airwars are not privy to the intelligence that underpins AFRICOM's assessments and cautioned, "this is a significant gap for outside investigators."

In Somalia there is a history of international actors, including the U.S., being misled by false intelligence reports used to extract revenge in local disputes.

The letter suggests that the reports "should include a public accounting of basic questions of methodology and the Command's definitions of combatants and non-combatants."

AFRICOM has not explained how it defines "combatant." Without that definition, the military can essentially designate anyone a terrorist. "It is plausible that AFRICOM counts individuals-particularly military aged males in Al-Shabaab controlled locations- as combatants whereas depending on our investigations we could classify such people as civilians, hence the discrepancies," Abdullahi Hassan, the Somalia Researcher at Amnesty International, told The Daily Beast.

AFRICOM did not provide an answer when The Daily Beast asked if any or every military aged male in Somalia is considered a combatant.

"AFRICOM-and other U.S. military commands-need to be far more transparent about how exactly they are distinguishing between combatants and civilians," says Priyanka Motaparthy, director of the Project on Armed Conflict, Counterterrorism, and Human Rights at Columbia Law School. "For the communities affected by their operations, this is a life or death question."

It is not clear if AFRICOM has yet contacted the families of the four civilians it has admitted to killing by mistake. Hartig says this is a particular area of concern, given that ex gratia payments are U.S. policy. He also added, "This is beyond AFRICOM's control, but I think we're still missing a lot of information on the context for U.S. operations in Somalia-the scale of our effort, our objectives, and what policies govern our use of force there. That sort of information should be coming from senior officials at the Pentagon or the White House, but we haven't seen that level of transparency from this administration."

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!

Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.


More Related News

Pompeo slams UN report on deadly US drone strike on Iranian
Pompeo slams UN report on deadly US drone strike on Iranian
  • World
  • 2020-07-10 14:41:48Z

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticized an independent U.N. human rights expert's report insisting a American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January was a "watershed" event in the use of drones and amounted to a violation of international law. The report presented by Agnes Callamard to the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council on Thursday chronicled events around the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the legal implications of his killing as part of a broader look on the use of drone strikes.

Trump Aides Not Sweating His Supreme Court Taxes Rebuke
Trump Aides Not Sweating His Supreme Court Taxes Rebuke

Moments after the Supreme Court resoundingly rejected President Donald Trump's claims to total immunity from prosecution on Thursday, the president did what he usually does: He began venting his rage on Twitter.Behind the scenes, however, members of his team were far more serene. "It's not something we are worrying about," an adviser to Trump's re-election campaign bluntly told The Daily Beast. That's because, as that adviser and another source working on the president's re-election effort say, they are operating under the belief that the ruling will be a non-issue, at least for now. There is widespread expectation that any resulting revelations about the president's finances will occur...

US sanctions Chinese officials over Xinjiang
US sanctions Chinese officials over Xinjiang 'violations'

China is accused of mass detentions and religious persecution of the Uighur Muslims.

Feds: Top Ohio State Immunologist Lied About Chinese Funding and Ties to Research Groups
Feds: Top Ohio State Immunologist Lied About Chinese Funding and Ties to Research Groups

Federal prosecutors allege that a top immunologist at Ohio State University illegally concealed Chinese funding for his research and attempted to flee the country before his arrest in Alaska in May.In a criminal complaint unsealed on Thursday, the Justice Department accuses Song Guo Zheng, the Ronald L. Whisler MD Chair in Rheumatology and Immunology at Ohio State's medical school, of fraudulently obtaining federal grant funds from the National Institutes of Health and making false statements to investigators.Zheng, prosecutors say, obtained nearly $5 million in federal research grants without disclosing ties to Chinese entities and additional grant funds provided by them. The complaint...

Dems Fear Trump Will Rush Vaccine to Boost Re-Elect
Dems Fear Trump Will Rush Vaccine to Boost Re-Elect

When Trump administration officials leading the response to the coronavirus pandemic came to Capitol Hill last week, they were grilled for hours on everything from the reopening of schools to the efficacy of wearing masks.But as the hearing wound down, Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) posed an altogether different type of question to Dr. Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration. Could he, Smith asked, promise that the administration wouldn't rush a vaccine simply to help the president's re-election chances?A first-term Democrat, Smith hardly has a reputation as a congressional bomb-thrower-which was just one reason that her question stood out during an otherwise staid hearing. But...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Africa