Rights group criticises US for ‘zero accountability’ over civilian deaths in Africa


The US military has announced it will be more open about its activities in Africa after facing fresh allegations of killing civilians in Somalia with drone strikes.

Amnesty International accused the US military on Wednesday of providing “zero accountability” for civilian victims of airstrikes by its Africa command, Africom.

The rights group said its investigations into two February airstrikes that Africom claimed had killed al-Shabaab fighters showed “no evidence” the two victims killed were militants.

According to Amnesty, the victims were 18-year-old Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar, whose house was hit while she ate dinner with her family, and 53-year-old banana farmer Mohamud Salad Mohamud.

“We’ve documented case after case in the USA’s escalating air war on Somalia, where the Africom thinks it can simply smear its civilian victims as ‘terrorists’, no questions asked,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s east and southern Africa director.

“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.”

Africom’s commander, Gen Stephen Townsend, announced on Tuesday that quarterly reports would be introduced on US activities, updating any allegations of civilian casualties and detailing the status of investigations.

Africom claims to have killed several al-Shabaab fighters in two operations over the past two weeks. It said no civilians were killed, though this was disputed in local reports.

The US has already carried out 32 strikes in Somalia this year, compared with 63 in the whole of 2019.

Despite carrying out hundreds of drone strikes over more than a decade, the US has only admitted to killing two civilians in Somalia.

The monitoring group Airwars has estimated, however, that between 74 and 146 civilians have probably been killed. Local media reports suggest up to 300.

Oliver Imhof, the Somalia and Libya researcher for Airwars, said Africom’s announcement of more transparency is a “step in the right direction”.

“The issue of lack of transparency and lack of responsibility is that often local communities become nervous. Local communities not knowing who killed their loved ones causes a lot of anger and can help local extremists recruit fighters from them,” he said.

Imhof said investigations into civilian deaths can sometimes be difficult because al-Shabaab often confiscated phones from witnesses in areas they control, l but added that discrepancies were also a result of how militaries investigate.

“Usually militaries conduct very little investigation in the field, so a lot of what they do is based on what they can see from the air. Post-strike assessments [are made]only from above, not from the ground. We often advocate for more on the ground assessments,” he said. (Source: The Guardian)