Pentagon denies report that U.S. airstrikes in Somalia killed 14 civilians

Pentagon denies report that U.S. airstrikes in Somalia killed 14 civilians
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The Pentagon has denied the findings of a new Amnesty International report that alleges that the U.S. military air campaign in Somalia has killed numerous civilians in the last two years.

“Our assessments found that no AFRICOM airstrike resulted in any civilian casualty or injury,” U.S. Africa Command (Africom) said in a statement late Tuesday, referring to the strikes against the Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab.

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“Our assessments are based on post-strike analysis using intelligence methods not available to nonmilitary organizations.”

Amnesty International, a human rights group, released a report earlier on Wednesday that claims that in investigating more than 100 strikes in Somalia in the past two years, it found “compelling evidence” that five strikes have killed 14 civilians, including children, and injured eight others.

“These five incidents were carried out with Reaper drones and manned aircraft in Lower Shabelle, a region largely under Al-Shabaab control outside the Somali capital Mogadishu,” between April 2017 and December 2018, the group writes.

The attacks “may have violated international humanitarian law and could, in some cases, constitute war crimes,” it adds.

Amnesty said it reached its conclusions after researchers “conducted more than 150 interviews with eyewitnesses relatives, persons displaced by the fighting, and expert sources — including in the U.S. military — and rigorously analyzed corroborating evidence, including satellite imagery, munition fragments, and photos from the aftermath of air strikes.”

Africom responded by noting that during its research, Amnesty International was faced with security concerns and access restrictions which prevented the group from conducting on-site investigations and “severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.”

Defense officials note that the group corresponded with Africom regarding eight specific air strikes.

Africom has conducted 110 airstrikes in Somalia since June 2017, killing approximately 803 militants from the al Qaeda-linked group. About 500 U.S. troops are based in the country. 

The command added that its airstrikes “are primarily conducted in secluded, low-populated areas,” and each mission “complies with the law of armed conflict and takes all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties and other collateral damage.”

Amnesty, however, has expressed concerns over the increased number of air strikes in the country under President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE.

“U.S. forces have carried out 34 strikes in Somalia in the last nine months of 2017 — more than in the entire five years from 2012 to 2016. This increased again in 2018, to 47 strikes; and there have already been 24 in the first two months of 2019 alone,” Amnesty notes.

Earlier on Tuesday, Africom said in a separate statement that it had conducted an airstrike — its 28th this year — that killed three militants.