Amnesty International released a new report Wednesday documenting through interviews and field assessments what the organization say were two civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Somalia this February.
A Feb. 2 airstrike struck a family during dinner, killing a young woman, while a second strike on Feb. 24 killed a 53-year-old man, according to the report. After both strikes, U.S. Africa Command issued press releases claiming they killed terrorists aligned with Al-Shabab, an al Qaeda-linked insurgency.
AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Chris Karns said in a statement that the command is currently assessing the two allegations from February, as well as others.
Amnesty International has previously raised allegations of civilian deaths from U.S. weapons in Somalia as airstrikes in the country trended upward over the past few years. After the organization’s latest allegations, AFRICOM officials said they intend to issue a new quarterly report on the status of ongoing civilian casualty allegations and assessments starting at the end of April.
The Feb. 2 strike occurred at roughly 8 p.m. in the southern Somali town of Jilib. Amnesty International said a GBU-69/B small glide munition struck a family’s home, instantly killing Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar, an 18-year-old woman, and wounding her two younger sisters and grandmother. GBU-69/B are small glide munitions often carried by AC-130 gunships or drones as a stand-off precision weapon with a 35-pound warhead.
“I never imagined it was going to hit us. I suddenly heard a huge sound. It felt like our house had collapsed," the deceased girl’s father told Amnesty International. "The sand and the smoke filled my eyes.”
The second strike the organization flagged occurred Feb. 24. A Hellfire missile hit a farm about six miles north of Jilib, killing Mohamud Salad Mohamud, a banana farmer and office manager for Hormuud, a large telecommunications firm in Somalia, Amnesty International said. He left behind a wife and eight children, according to the group.
Amnesty International said a senior Hormuud official was surprised that Mohamud was targeted because he previously worked for international humanitarian groups in the country and was arrested several times by Al-Shabab.
“When I heard the news of his death, I thought he was killed by Al-Shabaab," the official told Amnesty International. "I have never imagined he would be killed by [the] US or by the Somali government. This was very strange. I don’t know how to explain it.”
The deaths come as the U.S. military ramps up strikes in Somalia. In the first three months of 2020, AFRICOM conducted 32 airstrikes there, which is roughly double the pace from last year, Amnesty noted. A total of 63 strikes occurred in Somalia in 2019.
“Since I took command last year, we have been reviewing and revising our CIVCAS tracking, assessment and reporting procedures,” said AFRICOM commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend. “To demonstrate our transparency and commitment to protecting civilians from unnecessary harm, we plan to publicize our initial report by the end of this month and we will provide quarterly updates thereafter.”
AFRICOM has conducted roughly 200 airstrikes in Somalia going back to 2017. Amnesty International issued a report in 2019 detailing more than a dozen allegations of civilian casualties. AFRICOM later said a review found that two civilians were killed in a 2018 attack.
“The evidence is stacking up and it’s pretty damning," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa. “Not only does AFRICOM utterly fail at its mission to report civilian casualties in Somalia, but it doesn’t seem to care about the fate of the numerous families it has completely torn apart.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.