WASHINGTON – An American military airstrike in Somalia more than a year ago killed two civilians and injured three others, U.S. Africa Command acknowledged in a new report on Monday.
The deaths, confirmed by an internal investigation, mark only the second time Africa Command has determined that civilians were killed in a military strike in Somalia. The decision comes even as U.S. airstrikes against the al-Qaida linked al-Shabab extremist group this year are increasingly outpacing 2019 totals. Already there have been 39 airstrikes in 2020, compared to last year’s total of 63.
Maj. Gen. William Gayler, director of operations for Africa Command, told The Associated Press in an interview that the strike on Feb. 23, 2019, in Kunyon Barrow, targeted and killed two members of al-Shabab.
When online allegations of civilian casualties in that strike were received soon afterward, the command investigated, but the review dragged on for more than a year. After another similar allegation about that strike came in early this year from a non-governmental organization, the military continued its assessment, and it finally determined that at least one other person was killed or injured.
Gayler said the command could see video showing a person — an apparent civilian — being carried from the site.
“We didn’t see the other individual or the wounded individuals. But because we’re trying to be transparent and as open as we can, when we know that we’ve more likely than not killed the one male, why would we dispute the other killed and three wounded,” he said. So, officials decided to substantiate the allegations in total.
He said the deaths and injuries were likely due to secondary explosions from munitions stored at the site by al-Shabab. The extremist group controls parts of central and southern Somalia and often targets the capital, Mogadishu, with suicide bombings.
Asked why the investigation took so long, Gayler said it was an effort to be thorough and “some of the means we use to assess don’t normally happen quickly.” He did not provide details but noted information is gathered through classified means.