By Andrew Wasike and Magdalene Mukami
NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) – The U.S. is killing Somali civilians in airstrikes targeting al-Shabaab militants, Amnesty International said in a report on Wednesday noting it has evidence to prove it.
The regional Amnesty International office in Nairobi, Kenya called the civilian deaths war crimes, adding that forensic investigation has yielded credible evidence that 14 civilians were killed in just five out of the more than 100 airstrikes that the U.S. has carried out in Somalia.
The report “the Hidden U.S. War in Somalia" noted that the civilians were killed by "reaper drones and manned aircraft in Lower Shabelle, a region largely under Al-Shabaab control outside the Somali capital Mogadishu".
"The attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law, and some may amount to war crimes,” it added.
The international rights group said that it approached the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) many times with evidence but they denied killing any civilians in their Somali operations.
Brian Castner, the group's senior crisis advisor on arms and military operations, noted that the number of civilians killed by the U.S. airstrikes probably are higher than detailed in the report.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the U.S. role in Somalia’s war is actually a smokescreen for impunity.”
“Our findings directly contradict the U.S. military’s mantra of zero civilian casualties in Somalia,” he added.
Blaming U.S. President Donald Trump for proliferating the strikes after weakening safeguards, the report said: "The number of U.S. strikes in Somalia surged after 30 March 2017, when President Trump signed an Executive Order declaring southern Somalia an 'area of active hostilities'."
“In one case, a U.S. military airstrike in farmland near the village of Darusalaam killed three local farmers in the early morning hours of 12 November 2017. They were resting in the open after working well into the night digging irrigation canals. At around 3 a.m. an airstrike targeted them without warning.”
Responding to the Amnesty report in a statement, AFRICOM denied the allegations saying: "We believe the report does not accurately reflect AFRICOM’s record in mitigating civilian casualties. In fact, AFRICOM goes to extraordinary lengths to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, exercising restraint as a matter of policy.”
AFRICOM added: "Our assessments found that no AFRICOM airstrike resulted in any civilian casualty or injury. Our assessments are based on post-strike analysis using intelligence methods not available to non-military organizations.”
AFRICOM said that since June 2017 it had carried out 110 airstrikes in Somalia killing more than 800 terrorists, adding that al-Shabaab militants have been using untruthful claims of civilian casualties to coerce communities to make untrue claims to stop the airstrikes.