U.S. Africa Command acknowledged in a report released Monday that a 2019 military airstrike in Somalia killed two civilians and injured three others.
Maj. Gen. William Gayler, director of operations for Africa Command, told The Associated Press that the strike targeted the al-Shabab extremist group, noting that two members of the al Qaeda-linked group were killed in the strike along with the civilians.
Gayler added that the military investigated the Feb. 23, 2019, strike due to online allegations of civilian casualties, and that footage showed what appeared to be a civilian being carried away from the site strike.
“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 told the news service.
Asked why the probe took more than a year to complete, Gayler said the U.S. military wanted to be thorough and “some of the means we use to assess don’t normally happen quickly.” He did not offer specifics as to how information for the report was gathered, saying the methods are classified.
Gayler said, however, the investigation was inordinately long and that Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of Africa Command, has been insistent that future investigations must be finished more quickly and that the command must complete quarterly reports on civilian casualty allegations the same way U.S. Central Command does in the Middle East.
“While we follow very precise and rigorous standards, in instances where we fail to meet our expectations, we will admit the mistake,” Townsend said in the report. “We have the highest respect for our Somali friends, and we are deeply sorry this occurred.”
Africa Command said in the report that its investigation "assessed the deaths and injuries occurred due to the effects of U.S. munitions or secondary explosions caused by explosives stored by al-Shabaab at the location of the strike."
"In adherence to established procedures, the command has notified the Federal Government of Somalia and appropriate U.S. authorities verifying the credibility of the allegations and the fact that two civilians were unintentionally killed and three were injured as a result of an airstrike," it added.
The finding marks the second time Africa Command has acknowledged civilian deaths in a Somalia strike.
--Updated at 9:05 a.m.