U.S. air strikes killed civilians in Somalia, Amnesty International says
By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - U.S. air strikes in Somalia killed two civilians and injured three in February, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Wednesday, in a statement that raised questions over U.S. investigations of such allegations.
U.S. Africa Command said it was assessing the allegations and goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.
U.S. forces have been fighting a decade-long struggle against the al Qaeda-linked militant group al Shabaab. The insurgency wants to overthrow Somalia's shaky, internationally backed government and rule using its own strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Africa Command says air strikes are a key weapon against al Shabaab, but Amnesty says they also mistakenly target civilians.
A U.S. airstrike in the town of Jilib on Feb. 2 hit a family having a meal, Amnesty said, killing 18-year old Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar, injuring her two younger sisters - aged 7 and 12 - and her 70-year-old grandmother. Amnesty cited an interview with the girls' father, who was present but uninjured in 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.'"
Mohamed Omar Abukar, the son of the 70-year-old woman, told Reuters his family had been devastated by the strike. His youngest niece had come to the capital for medical treatment, he said.
"She is OK and walking. My mum and my niece Fatuma ... are too seriously injured to be brought by car to Mogadishu," he said.
Another strike on Feb. 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 banana farm and the local office for telecom company Hormuud, Amnesty said. Hormuud confirmed his death.
Africa Command - also known as AFRICOM - issued statements after both strikes saying it had killed militants.
"Following every airstrike, U.S. 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.
"Our in-depth post-strike analysis relies on intelligence methods that are not available to non-military organizations, including Amnesty International ... The command’s civilian casualty allegation assessment process is precise, comprehensive, and led by a team of experts."
Amnesty researcher Hassan said Africom should be more transparent about how it investigates allegations of civilian deaths.
"They seem to be living in denial that the airstrikes actually kill civilians," he said.
Last year, Amnesty issued a report alleging 14 civilian deaths in five U.S. air strikes in 2017 and 2018. At the time, Africa Command rejected the report but later said a review found that two civilians had been killed in a 2018 strike.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar; additional reporting by Duncan Miriri and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; writing by Duncan Miriri and Katharine Houreld; editing by Larry King)