Pentagon rejects claims US forces fired on Somali civilians

Pentagon rejects claims US forces fired on Somali civilians
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U.S. Africa Command (Africom) on Wednesday rejected claims that an Aug. 25 operation involving American troops in Somalia resulted in civilian deaths.

The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that there was strong evidence U.S. special operation forces were involved in the deaths of 10 civilians — including at least one child — in the southern Somali town of Bariire.

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Details have emerged that suggest that the U.S. forces carried out the operation — meant to retake and hold Bariire from the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab — without sufficiently vetting information and using untrustworthy intelligence, according to The Daily Beast.

U.S. Navy Seals allegedly fired upon unarmed civilians and then took pictures of those shot with weapons falsely planted beside the bodies to appear as though they were armed. 

Following the operation in August, Africom released a statement that acknowledged that “the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with U.S. forces in a supporting role.”

Africom said in the statement it was “aware of the civilian casualty allegations” and that it was “conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.”

The command on Wednesday said that following a “thorough assessment” U.S. Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAF) “has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.”

“Before conducting operations with partner forces, SOCAF conducts detailed planning and coordination to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties and to ensure compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict,” the statement said.

“U.S. Africa Command and the Department of Defense take allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.” 

The Somalia federal government also opened an investigation into the incident, but officials told The Daily Beast that that inquiry confirmed that those shot were civilians.

In addition, the outlet reported that the information was buried after the U.S. government put pressure on Somali officials.

The Somali government allegedly paid the victims’ families between $60,000 and $70,000 each.

The Africom statement does not mention the Somali investigation.

The U.S. military has roughly 500 troops in Somalia, double the number of forces from a year ago, with two new military headquarters in Mogadishu.

U.S. forces have been working with the Somali government to fight al-Shabaab for years, but American troop presence and airstrikes have increased since President Trump took office.

Trump this year granted a request from Africom to give commanders more authority to conduct airstrikes and raids against al-Shabaab without high-level, interagency reviews.

In addition, the U.S. has conducted three airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria affiliates since the beginning of November, the first against the terrorist group in that country.