An air strike was carried out by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), in southwest Somalia earlier this week that killed one suspected militant. This has followed accusations from human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, that it had tried to hide civilian casualties.
"Currently, we assess no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this airstrike," AFRICOM said in a statement, adding for the first time, that the army had procedures in place to collect follow-up information on the impact of bombings.
“Continued pressure on the Al-Shabab network is critical to progress,” said US Marine Corps Major General Gregg Olson, AFRICOM’s director of operations. “Our assistance complements the federal government of Somalia’s efforts to create stability and a better future for the Somali people.”
Amnesty International and other advocacy groups have raised the alarm over a lack of transparency by AFRICOM. Similar concerns have been raised about US air strikes in Libya, and Niger, as well as other countries from the Sahel to South Asia, where Washington is waging war on terrorist groups.
Earlier in March, Amnesty published a report saying 14 civilians had been killed and seven wounded in the course of five airstrikes attributed to the US military.
However, AFRICOM has denied any civilian deaths in its operations, but on Friday April 5th admitted responsibility for the death in April 2018 of a woman and child, after receiving information that it said had not been previously passed on.
The Amnesty charges have come at a moment when the US military was stepping up its operations in Somalia, with 28 airstrikes since the beginning of 2019, against 47 carried out in the whole of 2018 and 35 in 2017.
For more than a decade the US has sought to help the Somali government defeat the armed insurgent group Al-Shabab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. Washington has deployed hundreds of troops and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Mogadishu, largely through an African Union peacekeeping mission backed by the United Nations.
But the US has increasingly relied on air strikes to counter the militant group. In 2016 the Obama administration carried out fourteen strikes, by both drones and manned aircraft, a marked increase from the years beforehand. The US’s Central Intelligence Agency is also believed to be involved in other US operations there, though details of its activities are sparse.
The Trump administration has more than doubled the pace of strikes from the Obama years, ordering thirty-five strikes in 2017 and forty-five in 2018. Soon after taking office, Trump declared parts of Somalia to be areas of active hostility, giving the military greater latitude to carry out strikes there. Just three months in, this year could soon overtake past ones in the number of air strikes. The Defence Department says more than three hundred militants were killed in all of 2018, the death toll this year already stands around 250.