"During a commander-directed review of airstrikes conducted in Somalia since 2017, US Africa Command learned an April 1, 2018, airstrike killed two civilians," says a Friday statement by AFRICOM, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. The statement notes that the onus for the review came from "a recent increase in airstrikes and continued interest by Amnesty International and Congress on civilian casualties."
AFRICOM says it missed "credible evidence" of the civilian casualties because of a "reporting error."
"Consequently, on April 2, 2018, US Africa Command stated in a press release based on an initial post-strike intelligence review the strike killed five al-Shabaab terrorists, and that the command assessed ‘no civilians were killed in this airstrike,'" the statement continues. "Unaware of the subsequent assessment and findings, senior leaders later stated during congressional testimony and media engagements that US forces caused zero civilian casualties in Africa."
However, the command is careful to state it believes the killings "to be an isolated occurrence."
Last month, London-based human rights NGO Amnesty International (AI) blasted AFRICOM for a spike in civilian casualties in the East African nation, where the US has stepped up its air war against the militant group al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.
AI's March 20 report "The Hidden US War in Somalia" found 14 civilian deaths in five airstrikes just between October 2018 and February 2019, either as collateral damage from a strike against al-Shabaab or due to mistaken identification as al-Shabaab fighters themselves. In response to this, AFRICOM put out a statement saying that absolutely zero civilians had been killed in that time.
"We take all allegations of civilian casualties seriously regardless of their origin," AFRICOM said, noting that during the period covered by AI's report, "Our assessments found that no AFRICOM airstrike resulted in any civilian casualty or injury."
US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a Somali-American refugee who fled the country's civil war as a young girl, grilled experts last month on AFRICOM's claim of no civilian deaths from airstrikes in the country.
During a March 26 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Omar asked Joshua Meservey, an expert on the campaign at the hawkish conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, if he found AFRICOM's claims "to be credible in the face of overwhelming reports that are to the contrary?"
"There's a fog of war in a place like Somalia," Meservey replied. "It's very difficult to distinguish there the difference between combatants and non-combatants."
Sputnik has reported before on how AFRICOM no longer makes the distinction between civilians and militants in the undeclared war in Somalia, meaning it's impossible for AFRICOM to refute AI's claims that US airstrikes have killed civilians.
Former US AFRICOM commander Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc told the Daily Beast last November that the US military presumes that everybody it kills are enemy fighters until protests are raised by journalists, governments or NGOs.
Before March 2017, the US' rules for its strikes in undeclared war zones like Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan required it to obtain, with "near certainty," evidence of a target's presence, as well as the absence of potential civilian casualties, before an airstrike could be authorized. However, the Trump administration shed these requirements, only stating that a "reasonable certainty" of the presence of the target was required before the strike could be made — in other words, civilians were totally dropped from the analysis.
With the airstrike in which AFRICOM has admitting to murdering innocent Somalis happening over a year after those changes took effect, it seems the command is keeping true to Bolduc's summary of its conduct: AFRICOM will only investigate reports of civilian casualties when reporters make a stink about it.
That means that either the evidence was always there and Pentagon indifference to civilian deaths in a Third World country led them to ignore it or make no effort to look for it, or AFRICOM has made up these numbers to assuage the rage about its indiscriminate massacres from the sky. Neither possibility looks good.
AI responded to AFRICOM's admission Friday, saying it was "an "important step forward… but this is only a first step."
"We still need new investigation procedures and all cases of civilian casualties we have documented re-investigated," said Daphne Eviatar, director of security with human rights at Amnesty International USA. "The family and community members of victims of these and other strikes who have had neither communication nor support from AFRICOM will find little solace in this initial response."
According to AFRICOM, the command has executed 28 airstrikes in Somalia in 2019, compared to 47 in 2018 and 35 in 2017.