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AFRICOM Says Civilian Killed in Airstrike in Somalia

FILE - Somali families, displaced after fleeing the Lower Shabelle region amid an uptick in U.S. airstrikes, sit under a tree at an IDP camp near Mogadishu, Somalia, March 12, 2020.

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) says an airstrike that was intended to target al-Shabab fighters in Somalia earlier this year killed one civilian and wounded three others, in a rare admission by the Command.

The findings were part of AFRICOM’s second quarterly report on civilian casualties and marks only the third time in AFRICOM’s history that the command has said civilians were killed in Somalia as a result of U.S. airstrikes against Islamist militants.

“Our goal is to always minimize impact to civilians. Unfortunately, we believe our operations caused the inadvertent death of one person and injury to three others who we did not intend to target,” AFRICOM Commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a statement Tuesday.

The death occurred from a U.S. strike on Feb. 2 in the vicinity of Jilib, Somalia. The civilians killed and wounded “weren’t visible” when the military conducted the strike, which targeted and wounded one al-Shabab terrorist, AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Chris Karns told VOA Tuesday.

“We are getting after a mutual threat in al-Shabab,” Karns said. “If we’re found to have made a mistake, we will admit to it because accountability and trust is key.”

The U.S. military has conducted 100 airstrikes against terror groups in Somalia and Libya between February 2019 and July 21, 2020, according to military press releases.

U.S. AFRICOM has closed investigations on civilian casualty allegations related to 27 separate incidents, including one posed by VOA about a strike in Jilib, Somalia, on Feb. 24, 2020. AFRICOM concluded in its latest report that the person killed in the strike was an al-Shabab commander.

Four incidents of potential civilian casualties are still under review.

The allegations arose through self-reporting, traditional and social media reporting, non-government organizations, and internal oversight processes, according to the Command.

Amnesty International has called AFRICOM’s civilian casualty reports a “welcome glimmer of transparency in more than a decade of deadly military operations.”

Brian Castner, the senior crisis advisor for arms and military operations at Amnesty International, urged AFRICOM on Tuesday to provide reparations for the victims and their families.

“While AFRICOM has made tentative progress in acknowledging civilian casualties, they now need to prevent these civilian casualties in the first place,” he said.

AFRICOM has said its strikes have killed a total of five civilians in Somalia since April 2018.

AFRICOM made its first acknowledgment of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Somalia last year, when new information revealed that a woman and child were killed, along with four al-Shabab militants, in a U.S. airstrike near the central town of El Burr on April 1, 2018.

The second acknowledgment came in April, when AFRICOM said two civilians were “regrettably and unintentionally killed” as a result of a strike on Feb. 23, 2019. The strike also killed two al-Shabab terrorists, who were the intended targets.