In a review of airstrikes in the war-torn country since 2017, U.S. Africa Command found that an April 2018 attack on al-Shabab militants killed two innocent civilians.
“Credibility, transparency, and accountability are fundamental to military operations,” Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, said in a statement Friday morning. “It is critically important that people understand we adhere to exacting standards and when we fall short, we acknowledge shortcomings and take appropriate action.”
The news comes just weeks after Amnesty International released a scathing review charging that the U.S. has killed at least 14 civilians over the past two years. The Amnesty report examined just five of the dozens of airstrikes in Somalia since 2017.
The Pentagon has vehemently denied those allegations.
The April 1, 2018, bombing reviewed by AFRICOM was not one of the incidents included in the Amnesty study. Officials said evidence emerged shortly after the incident suggesting that civilians may have been killed, but that information was not passed up the chain to military leadership.
“On March 30, 2019, the command was notified about the results of a post-strike internal assessment conducted in April 2018 that found credible evidence of the two civilian casualties. Unfortunately, the finding was not properly reported to U.S. Africa Command headquarters,” AFRICOM said in its statement. “Because of the reporting error, U.S. Africa Command was not informed of the assessment’s conclusion-and subsequently the information was not reported to external authorities, such as the host nation and Congress.”
Officials added that “the reporting error is being addressed.”
The U.S. has carried out 28 airstrikes in Somalia so far this year. In 2018, there were 47 strikes and 35 in 2017, according to AFRICOM figures.
Despite the admission, human-rights groups said the military must go much further.
“AFRICOM’s acknowledgement of civilian casualties is an important step forward from their previous denials of any civilian deaths or injuries from US air strikes in Somalia,” said Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International’s director of security with human rights. “But this is only a first step. We still need new investigation procedures and all cases of civilian casualties we have documented re-investigated. The family and community members of victims of these and other strikes who have had neither communication nor support from AFRICOM will find little solace in this initial response.”
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