Somalia: AFRICOM says US airstrike kills 5 militants near Janaale, acknowledges civilian casualty reports

AFRICOM has admitted only two civilian casualties in 13 years of strikes

The U.S. conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab militants near Janaale, Somalia on Tuesday, March 10, U.S. Africa Command said in a press release.

AFRICOM assessed the strike killed five al-Shabaab militants and that no civilians were injured as a result of the strike, but said it was aware of reports on social media of civilian casualties.

A Somali Federal Government statement said a vehicle was also destroyed in the strike in Janaale, which lies about 70 km (44 miles) southwest of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in the country’s Lower Shabelle region – an al-Shabaab stronghold.

“As with any allegation of civilian casualties, U.S. Africa Command will review any information it has about the incident, including any relevant information provided by third parties, and take appropriate action based on the outcome of this review,” the AFRICOM release read.

U.S. airstrikes against Shabaab increased precipitously after President Donald Trump eased engagement restrictions in 2017 by declaring southern Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” but AFRICOM has admitted only one incident of civilian casualties in more than 150 airstrikes since the U.S. campaign against al-Shabaab began in 2007 – a near perfect record that stands at odds with local reports, drawing criticism from experts and observers. The command is currently preparing to adopt a planned Defense Department-wide civilian casualties policy, set for release later this year.

Tuesday’s strike came a day after AFRICOM targeted the same area. The Somali government said the strike on Monday killed four al-Shabaab fighters and no civilians.

The U.S. also conducted a strike on Saturday near Gandarshe, which AFRICOM said killed four Shabaab militants. One day prior, Somali army forces fended off an attack by some 30 al-Shabaab fighters on their base at Ceel Salini, the government said.

The U.S. supports some Somali National Army troops in ground operations against al-Shabaab. The militant Islamist group has fought to establish an Islamic state in Somalia since 2006. The group was largely routed from Mogadishu in 2011 by the African Union’s Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) but still controls significant rural areas.

The Pentagon reported last month that SNA forces were not yet capable of holding their outposts in rural areas outside the capital without international military support.

The Trump administration is considering drawing down some of its more than 5,000 troops in Africa in order to focus on countering Russia and China.

On Tuesday, AFRICOM commander General Stephen Townsend argued to Congress that al-Shabaab, the largest al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group, poses a serious threat to the stability of East African governments.

Townsend has previously made the case to lawmakers that U.S. military partnerships with African governments can help counter growing Russian and Chinese political and economic influence in Africa.

Slow admissions of civilian harm in Somalia raise questions about US transparency

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