News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

June 2, 2021

Written by

Airwars Staff

Conservative public tallies of civilians killed by US during 2020 are almost five times higher than DoD admits

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on civilian deaths and injuries resulting from US military actions around the world has declared more than 100 recent casualties. Researchers and human rights groups, including Airwars, Amnesty International and UN monitors in Afghanistan, place the actual toll significantly higher.

For 2020 alone, the Department of Defence said that its forces had killed 23 civilians and injured a further 10 in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. An additional 63 historical deaths and 22 injuries were reported for the years 2017-2019, mostly in Syria and Yemen.

By contrast, the minimum public estimate of civilian deaths caused by US forces during 2020 across five conflict nations was 102 fatalities – almost five times higher than DoD admits.

Casualties from US actions in Afghanistan in particular appear to have been officially undercounted. While the Pentagon reports only 20 deaths and 5 injuries from its own actions last year, UNAMA – the respected UN agency in Afghanistan – says that international forces killed at least 89 civilians and injured a further 31. United States personnel made up the great majority of those foreign forces.

For Somalia, DoD declares only one civilian death from US actions last year – while Airwars and others suggest a minimum civilian toll of seven killed.

And for Iraq and Syria, while US forces declare only one death, local reporting indicates at least six civilians killed by US actions.

Only for Yemen is there agreement, with monitoring organisations and the DoD both indicating that there were no likely civilian deaths caused by US actions during the year.

Major decline in US actions

The 21-page Pentagon document, quietly released May 28th and entitled ‘Annual Report on Civilian Casualties In Connection With United States Military Operations in 2020,’ has been a requirement of US law since 2018.

The latest report captures the very significant fall in tempo of US military actions during the latter years of Donald Trump’s presidency. According to Airwars estimates, there were around 1,000 US strikes across four conflict countries during 2020 – down from approximately 3,500 strikes the previous year and a peak of 13,000 such US actions during 2016. Declared civilian deaths fell from 132 to 23 from 2019 to 2020.

The majority of civilian deaths declared by the Pentagon during 2020 were in Afghanistan – despite a major ceasefire between US forces and the Taliban for much of the year. According to the new DoD report, 20 civilians were killed and five injured in seven US actions, primarily airstrikes.

The seven civilian casualty events conceded in Afghanistan by the Pentagon for 2020

However the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) which has been recording extensive data on civilian harm from all parties to the fighting since 2009, placed the toll far higher. According to its own annual report for 2020 published earlier this year, “UNAMA attributed 120 civilian casualties (89 killed and 31 injured) to international military forces”.

While these casualties represented just one per cent of the overall reported civilian toll in Afghanistan for the year – with most civilians killed by the Taliban and Afghan forces – of concern was DoD’s major undercounting of its own impact on civilians – with UNAMA logging four and a half times more deaths primarily from US actions than those officially conceded by the Pentagon.

Reported civilian casualties from US actions against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria have remained low since the terror group’s defeat as a territorial entity in mid 2019. According to the Pentagon, just one civilian was killed by an action in Iraq, after US forces targeted Iranian linked militias at Karbala airport on March 13th 2020. Twenty three year old security guard Karrar Sabbar was killed in that US attack. However the additional reported deaths of two civilian policemen in the attack are not acknowledged by the US.

In Syria, Airwars estimates three to six likely civilian deaths from US actions during 2020, mainly during counterterrorism raids against ISIS remnants. None of these were conceded either.

In Somalia, between 7 and 13 civilians were likely killed by US actions during the year, according to Airwars monitoring of local communities. The US military itself concedes five injuries and one death, in two events in early 2020 near Jilib.

Only for Yemen did human rights organisations and DoD appear to agree, with both reporting no likely civilian deaths from US actions during the year.

US forces in Somalia killed one civilian and injured five others during 2020, according to official estimates

Public transparency

Despite continuing disparities between public and military estimates of civilian harm, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress still represents a significant transparency breakthrough. Close ally France, for example, has refused to declare a single civilian fatality from almost seven years of air and artillery strikes in Iraq and Syria – and recently lashed out at the United Nations after a French airstrike struck a wedding party in Mali.

Later this year the Pentagon will also issue a major overhaul of its civilian casualty mitigation policies, which it has been reviewing in consultation with human rights organisations for several years. On May 25th, new Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr Colin Kahl confirmed in writing to NGOs that the new policy – known as a Department of Defense Instruction, or DoD-I – would be published by the Biden administration.

“We welcome the Pentagon’s publication to Congress of its latest annual civilian harm report, as well as confirmation that the DOD-I on civilian casualty mitigation will be published by the new administration,” noted Airwars director Chris Woods. “We remain concerned however that DoD estimates of civilian harm once again fall well below credible public estimates, and call on officials to review why such undercounts remain so common. Civilians surely deserve better.”

▲ Aftermath of a deadly US airstrike on Karbala Airport on March 13th, 2020 which the Pentagon admits killed a civilian.

Published

April 8, 2021

Written by

Airwars Staff

Despite receiving comprehensive findings on 38 civilian deaths five months ago, CENTCOM has yet to respond says human rights group.

The Yemeni human rights group Mwatana has accused US Central Command of being “very disrespectful to victims”, after it emerged that CENTCOM has still not publicly responded to a major investigation into civilians killed by US airstrikes and ground raids. Given five months’ advance notice of the findings of the investigation, which comprehensively detailed the deaths of at least 38 civilians in twelve likely US actions in Yemen during the Trump presidency, Mwatana says that CENTCOM has still not responded.

The 124-page report from Mwatana, ‘Death Falling From The Sky’, was eventually published in late March without input from CENTCOM. It presents a grim view of an intensive campaign by the US military under President Trump to target alleged Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen, part of a long-running counterterrorism effort begun by Barack Obama in 2009.

In total according to Airwars monitoring, a record 327 US airstrikes and ground actions in Yemen were alleged during the Trump presidency, of which 181 were officially declared. As many as 199 civilian deaths were locally alleged, with Airwars presently estimating that, based on the available public record, between 76 and 152 civilians were likely killed by the US in Yemen under Trump in 26 incidents.

Mwatana’s own report focuses on just twelve of these events – recording in meticulous detail the devastating effects of some US actions on local communities. Dozens of family members, survivors and eyewitnesses were interviewed in person. Comprehensive paperwork including hospital records and university and workplace documentation was gathered, confirming the civilian status of victims. Photographs and videos detail injuries to victims and damage to homes.

“The standard of information, and what we were able to get from the ground, is built on years of Mwatana work,” says Bonyan Jamal, an accountability officer at the Yemeni human rights organisation. “Thanks to our incredible researchers, and high quality work, we are able to speak directly to families and gain their trust.”

All twelve events documented by Mwatana were already publicly known – though civilian casualties have only been admitted by CENTCOM in one case. A detailed review by Airwars of ‘Death Falling From The Sky’ found it to be meticulously researched and documented; and conservative in its estimates of civilian harm from US actions. Victims were only identified, for example, after being explicitly named by witnesses and surviving family members. In any case where the combatant status of a casualty was less than clear, they were excluded from the potential civilian tally.

A disastrous US raid on the village of Yakla in late January 2017 killed up to 12 civilians, CENTCOM itself has confirmed. Others have placed the toll far higher. In its own estimate, Mwatana conservatively says that at least 15 civilians died that day. “For the Yakla event, we respect that others have reached different findings,” says Kristine Beckerle, legal director, accountability and redress at Mwatana. “We never say ‘these are all the people killed that day’. What we can say is that we are confident in those victims that we name.”

That conservative approach makes the investigation’s conclusion all the more damning. “This report raises serious concerns about the extent to which the United States is complying with international law in its use of lethal force in Yemen,” Mwatana asserts. “It finds that the United States is failing to investigate credible allegations of violations, to hold individuals responsible for violations to account, and to provide prompt and adequate reparations.”

Mwatana’s list of fifteen named fatal victims of a US raid on Yakla, Yemen in January 2017.

US silence on deaths of women

Each of the twelve events detailed in the Mwatana investigation provides such compelling evidence of civilian harm that CENTCOM’s continued silence appears inexplicable.

More than three weeks after the incident itself, a public US Central Command statement had for example confirmed that a US strike had taken place in the Yemeni province of Bayda on December 15th 2017, which it indicated had resulted in the death of Miqdad al-Sana’ani, described in the press release as an “external operations facilitator” for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). CENTCOM made no mention of civilian harm.

The only locally reported action in Bayda that December day was again in the village of Yakla – where all local sources agreed that a likely US drone strike had killed Hajera Ahmed Saleh Al Taisi, 33 years old and pregnant, and her 63-year old aunt, Dhabia Ahmad Al Taisi.

According to Mwatana, “On the day of the strike, Dhabia was visiting Hajera’s home, about 90 meters from Dhabia’s own small house. At about 6pm, as Dhabia was leaving the house, the strike occurred. The strike hit right next to the entrance of the house, killing Dhabia, who was standing by the door. Hajera was in her kitchen. She was hit by shrapnel in the neck, which ripped through her back. The surrounding homes suffered varying degrees of damage from the strike.”

According to one report, a man was also killed in the attack who may have been the AQAP suspect al-Sana’ani. Yet there is no dispute locally that two women died that day. As Hajera’s husband told Mwatana, ‘My wife was expecting a child; the shrapnel killed her and her fetus … The life of people and their movements are almost paralyzed by fear.”

Kristine Beckerle says this was one of the events she had expected CENTCOM to concede: “Maybe, I thought, they would admit the case of these two women – one pregnant, killed in their house. There is no advantage I can see to their not engaging on this case. Yet we have had no response until now.”

The #UnitedStates has never fully investigated the civilian cost of its operations in #Yemen, and has never taken sufficient steps to review the efficacy of these operations.

Read #DeathFallingFromTheSky report: https://t.co/ASqTtoyYlZ

— Mwatana for Human Rights (@MwatanaEn) March 31, 2021

CENTCOM: lack of accountability

US Central Command was first provided full details of the Mwatana investigation on November 4th 2020, says accountability officer Bonyan Jamal. “They have had more than five months to respond. We even delayed publication several times to give them the opportunity to respond. That CENTCOM didn’t even take the time to write a proper response to express their position on these findings is very disrespectful to victims.”

This echoes other recent experiences with the US’s largest combatant command. As this organisation recently noted in its own recent Yemen study Eroding Transparency, “Despite Airwars providing CENTCOM with its complete civilian harm findings on Yemen during the Trump presidency nine weeks prior to this report’s publication, officials unfortunately failed to provide any event responses.”

CENTCOM also had to issue an apology in late 2020 as a result of what it described as an “administrative error”, after conceding it had forgotten its own earlier public admission of the killing of up to 12 civilians during the raid on Yakla village in early 2017.

Accountability for civilian harm at CENTCOM appears to be in decline across several theatres under current commander General Kenneth ’Frank’ McKenzie, who took up his post in March 2019. As Airwars recently noted in its annual report, 2020 saw an unexplained 80 per cent drop in the number of civilian harm allegations deemed ‘Credible’ by CENTCOM assessors working with the US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria. And in Afghanistan, US forces have taken an increasingly robust stance against UN data which continue to flag concerns about civilian harm from international actions.

“The great majority of alleged civilian deaths and injuries from US military actions each year are within CENTCOM’s area of responsibility. And we need to see significant improvements in its identifying, reviewing and reporting of those claims,” says Chris Woods, director of Airwars. “Mwatana’s investigation is scrupulously researched and offers compelling evidence of at least 38 civilians likely killed in recent US actions in Yemen. It is not good enough for CENTCOM apparently to ignore that evidence for more than five months.”

▲ Villagers in Jaeir, al Bayda, protest a reported US strike in January 2019 that killed a 67 year old civilian man, according to Mwatana investigators and local sources

Incident Code

USYEMTr234-C

Incident date

March 16, 2021

Location

حي جو النسيم, Jao Al-Naseem, Marib, Yemen

Airwars assessment

Local sources in Marib reported casualties among civilians as a result of a reported attack either by a US-drone on a car entering a popular market in Marib – or by a Houthi balluistic missile strike on the market – on March 16th, 2021.

While @aalnaasi said the attack happened on Dahbeel station in Al-Naseem, @assssa1234a said that the attack led to the killing of two people who were in the car, and the injuring of citizens who were in the vicinity.

The Yemeni news agency Saba claimed that a US drone had targeted an unknown car as it entered a crowd of citizens’ vehicles in the Jao Al-Naseem neighbourhood, east of the city of Ma’rib. A local source told Saba that ” an American drone targeted an unidentified car with a laser-guided missile while entering the middle of a car gathering in the Jao Al-Naseem neighborhood, resulting in deaths on board the car and wounding a number of citizens near it.”

Saba also claimed that “It is noteworthy that American drones have intensified their raids on the governorates of Marib and Shabwa over the past few days.” However no further proofs were offered to support that claim.

While most sources blamed a US drone for the attack, al Jazeera reported ” 2 dead and 7 wounded due to the fall of a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis on a popular market in Marib city”.

The identity of those killed is not clear yet and no further information is presently available. A a possible moratorium on US strikes in Yemen by the Biden Administration may also have been in operation since January 20th 2021.

The incident occured in the afternoon.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2
  • Civilians reported injured
    7
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    United States Armed Forces, Houthi Forces
  • Suspected target
    Unknown
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2

Sources (10) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Houthi Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Houthi Forces
  • Houthi Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2
  • Civilians reported injured
    7
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    United States Armed Forces, Houthi Forces
  • Suspected target
    Unknown
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2

Sources (10) [ collapse]

Published

March 2, 2021

Written by

Joseph Dyke

Previous declaration to Congress of civilian deaths in Yemen under Donald Trump was forgotten, CENTCOM admits

The US military has blamed an “administrative mistake” after conceding it forgot its own admission of the killing of up to 12 civilians during a raid on a Yemeni village in early 2017. Details of the admission feature in the Airwars annual report for 2020 which published March 2nd.

The US military led a raid targeting alleged senior Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives in January 2017, just days after President Trump’s inauguration. According to the residents of Yakla, at least 20 and as many as 56 civilians died in the attack – including women and children. One American soldier was also killed in the fierce assault.

The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) admitted the deaths of civilians just days after the assault; and CENTCOM’s then commander General Joseph Votel later told the US Senate he took personal responsibility for the deaths of “between four and 12” civilians.

However in a public statement issued November 5th, in response to Airwars’ recent findings on the Trump administration’s actions in Yemen, CENTCOM appeared to row back heavily on Gen. Votel’s earlier admission, claiming only that “there may have been civilian casualties” during the Yakla raid.

Asked by Airwars to clarify whether it still stood by General Votel’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), a contrite CENTCOM admitted it had effectively forgotten its own role in the deaths of Yemeni civilians during what it described as an intense firefight between US forces and Al Qaeda.

“USCENTCOM stands by GEN Votel’s statement to the SASC, and we have subsequently found the appropriate documentation that credibly assesses between 4 and 12 non-combatant casualties died”.

Captain Bill Urban, CENTCOM’s spokesman, also insisted that this represented an administrative error.

“Please accept our apologies for our errant ‘may have’ in yesterday’s initial statement regarding the Jan 2017 raid…Our failure to provide an accurate assessment was an administrative mistake, and not an intent to deceive.”

Bonyan Gamal, a lawyer with the Yemeni human rights organisation Mwatana, said the US mistake would be “painful” for the families of those killed at Yakla, many of whom had hoped for an official apology or compensation from the US government.

“It is shocking and I think it will cause more anger. This raid caused such sadness and shock in Yemen,” she told Airwars.

“A key criticism in our recent report on US counterterror actions in Yemen was of systemic failings in civilian casualty assessments at CENTCOM,” said Chris Woods, director of Airwars, which monitors civilian casualties in multiple conflicts. “It’s insulting to both Yemenis and Americans that the deaths of so many civilians in a recent botched US raid don’t appear to form a part of CENTCOM’s institutional memory.”

Years of unaccountable war 

Yemen, an impoverished country on the Arabian Peninsula, has been locked in civil war for half a decade. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia has also carried out a prolonged aerial campaign, supported by the United States, in a bid to unseat Houthi rebels in the capital Sanaa.

Parts of the country remain fertile territory for Al-Qaeda and more recently, for a local Islamic State franchise. Since 2009 the US has been conducting counterterrorism airstrikes and occasional ground raids. These ramped up significantly during Donald Trump’s presidency, with the US military conducting at least 190 armed actions in Yemen – but with at least 86 civilians also allegedly killed, according to Airwars research.

The most deadly single incident came on January 29th 2017, only nine days after Trump’s inauguration.

US forces snuck into the village of Yakla, reportedly to target senior AQAP leaders. In the ensuing firefight dozens were killed. Several field investigations concluded that at least twenty civilians died in the attack, including women and children reportedly gunned down from the air. US Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William Owens also died in the attack.

“This raid was one of the worst cases we have seen in Yemen,” Bonyan Gamal said. “I can only imagine the psychological and mental impact.”

During in-person testimony to the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2017, Gen. Votel admitted his troops had killed between four and 12 civilians at Yakla.

“We lost a lot on this operation. We lost a valued operator, we had people wounded, we caused civilian casualties,” Votel told the committee. “We have made a determination based on our best information available that we did cause casualties, somewhere between 4 and 12 casualties that we accept – I accept  – responsibility for.”

An Airwars report published October 28th highlighted civilian casualties reportedly caused by US strikes and raids in Yemen during the Trump era, including the Yakla raid. Airwars provided comprehensive data and evidence on locally alleged civilian harm to CENTCOM more than two months ahead of publication, but received no reply until after the report was released.

On November 5th CENTCOM then admitted its first civilian harm case since Yakla, crediting Airwars for drawing a September 2017 incident to its attention. However Central Command rejected 39 other civilian harm allegations under Trump which had been flagged by Airwars – and claimed only that it “may” have harmed civilians in the notorious Yakla raid.

Transparency lacking

In 2016, outgoing US President Barack Obama had signed an Executive Order requiring the Director of National Intelligence to publish an annual summary of strikes against militant groups, and associated civilian harm, in countries such as Yemen.

Donald Trump, however, reversed that ruling in 2019 and critics say transparency around strikes had then decreased.

Peter Salisbury, senior Yemen analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank, said the Trump administration had a far worse record on transparency than the Obama administration, “which itself was hardly open about what it knew.”

President Joe Biden recently announced an end to US support for the brutal Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels. The status of the 12-year long US campaign against al Qaeda in Yemen is less clear – though a recent report suggested the entire US covert drone strikes campaign is now in review.

According to Mwatana’s Bonyan Gamal, unaccountable US strikes can feed extremism. “Yakla is in a very remote area in Yemen,” she noted. “They don’t get basic services such as water, schooling, or even cell phone service. Nothing reaches there except US drones.”

▲ Children standing in the rubble of Yakla following a deadly US raid on the village in January 2017 (Image courtesy of Iona Craig)

Incident Code

USSOM336

Incident date

February 17, 2021

Location

Hantiwadaag, Lower Shabelle, Somalia

Geolocation

1.88721, 44.7789 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Village

Airwars assessment

A single source alleged a US drone strike on Hantidawaag which AFRICOM later denied.

Halgan Media wrote: “US drones just bombed the village of Hantiwadaag in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle province and struck a vehicle carrying a group of Al Shabaab fighters – Sources.”

AFRICOM responded to a request from Airwars: “U.S. Africa Command’s last strikes were conducted on Jan. 19 2021.”

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab

Sources (1) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Hantiwadaag, for which the generic coordinates are: 1.88721, 44.7789. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

U.S. Africa Command's last strikes were conducted on Jan. 19 2021.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab

Sources (1) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM335

Incident date

February 11, 2021

Location

Salagle, Middle Juba, Somalia

Geolocation

1.81004, 42.28991 Note: The accuracy of this location is to District level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

District

Airwars assessment

Several Al Shabaab militants were reported killed at Salagle in a military strike which two local sources claimed was a US drone action. However AFRICOM explicitly denied this in an email to Airwars, insisting that “U.S. Africa Command’s last airstrike in Somalia was conducted Jan. 19, 2021.”

Intelligence Briefs said: “A number of Al-Shabaab operatives including some mid-level commander are believed to have been killed and compounds destroyed after four drone missiles hit targets in Sakow and Salagle localities of Middle Jubba region of Somalia.

Open sources and local media reported that suspected US drone conducted the air raid on the two Al-Shabaab stronghold towns in Middle Jubba region.”

Somaliland wrote: “Dozens of al-Shabaab members including their commanders are feared dead after four missiles hit their stronghold towns in Sakow and Salagle localities.

local media reported that suspected US drones bombed the two al-Shabaab controled towns in Middle Jubba region. It is not clear the exact casualties of the attacks but officials who are privy to the missions, claimed one of the targets was a meeting point attended by a number of al-Shabaab commanders.”

 

The incident occured around midnight.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    6–12

Sources (2) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention the district of Salagle, for which the generic coordinates are: 1.81004, 42.28991. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

  • Reports of the incident mention the district of Salagle.

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

U.S. Africa Command's last airstrike in Somalia was conducted Jan. 19, 2021.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    6–12

Sources (2) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM334

Incident date

February 11, 2021

Location

سااكوو, Sakow, Middle Juba, Somalia

Geolocation

1.640397, 42.452334 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Subdistrict level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Subdistrict

Airwars assessment

Several Al Shabaab militants were reported killed at Sakow in a military strike which several local sources claimed was a US drone action. However AFRICOM explicitly denied this in an email to Airwars, insisting that “U.S. Africa Command’s last airstrike in Somalia was conducted Jan. 19, 2021.”

Geesguud initially reported: “Residents in Middle Jubba reported a suspected US airstrike in their vicinity on Wednesday. Locals from the Sakow district reported hearing the rumblings of fighter jets late in the evening, followed by artillery shelling and bombs. The residents believe US forces were targeting Al-Shabaab bases in their surrounding area.”

Warsan Radio also claimed that most strikes had been carried out by US drones and others by fighter jets.

Somaliland wrote that “dozens of al-Shabaab members including their commanders are feared dead after four missiles hit their stronghold towns in Sakow and Salagle localities.”

Badweyn Times was alone in alleging civilian harm, though blamed local Somali forces: “Reports from Sakow district in middle Jubba, Somalia indicate that there are significant reports of heavy shelling on children and other civilians. The bomber struck shortly after noon in front of a children’s home in Sakow district.  Out of the above 80 children were killed, while declare that there was still a number of serious offenses. Many children spoke out when the announcement was made after it was important as an emergency, according to one resident.

Security sources say Colonel Abdullah Dahir Abdullah (Ugas Abdalla) is responsible for the planned insult and the whole air strike. The site of the bombing was said to be caring for orphans between the ages of 5 and 12 and also part of a food service for the elderly people in the town.”

Highly unusually, no other media or local sources reported civilian harm in this event from any party despite Badweyn’s claim of high civilian deaths. While Airwars includes this claim here for completion, we do not presently consider this to be a valid civilian harm allegation.

The incident occured around midnight.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attackers
    United States Armed Forces, somalia_military_forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    6–12

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the vicinity of Sakow (سااكوو) city. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Sakow are: 1.640397, 42.452334.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

U.S. Africa Command's last airstrike in Somalia was conducted Jan. 19, 2021.

somalia_military_forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    somalia_military_forces
  • somalia_military_forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attackers
    United States Armed Forces, somalia_military_forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    6–12

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM333

Incident date

January 29, 2021

Location

Ma'moodow, Bakool, South West State, Somalia

Geolocation

4.12303, 43.890121 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Subdistrict level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Subdistrict

Airwars assessment

According to Somali official and media sources, an airstrike targeted a group of al Shabaab fighters in the vicinity of Ma’moodow town in Bakool province on January 29th.

According to an official statement from the Security Ministry of South West State, the attack was conducted by “friends of Somalia.”

Following requests for clarification, AFRICOM publicly denied responsibility for the event, insisting that the last US military action had been on January 19th – the last full day of the Trump presidency. .

Reports of a strike first emerged late on the night of January 29th, with Halgan Media asserting that “Sources reveal suspected US drones carried out a drone strike Tonight and bombed the Al Shabaab controlled town of Ma’moodow in the Bakool province of Somalia. Per Sources, the drone strike occurred at around 10PM local time.”

Halgan later added that “Sources confirm the (drone) strike targeted a group of Al Shabaab fighters that where conjured together in Ma’moodow and waiting for vehicles coming from the direction of Ceelbarde, when they came under attack from an American drone….Per sources the drone strike in Bakool came after Al Shabaab fighters ambushed a contingent of Ethiopian troops escorting supplies by road upon departing Ceelbarde. After the ambush, the insurgents gathered in Ma’moodow, which was followed by a strike”.

Anadolu Agency was among media citing a statement later published by the Security Ministry of Southwest State, which reportedly “said that US airstrikes killed several senior al-Shabaab commanders in the southwestern Bakool region. According to a statement issued by the ministry, the airstrikes took place in the vicinity of Ma’moodow, 410 km (254 mi) from Mogadishu.”

That statement in fact referred only to a strike by “friends of Somalia” – though officials appear to have briefed local reporters in more detail.

On February 1st 2021, responding to an email query from Airwars, AFRICOM’s public affairs team noted: “We are aware of the reporting. U.S. Africa Command was not involved in the Jan. 29 action referenced below. U.S. Africa Command last strike was conducted on Jan. 19. Our policy of acknowledging all airstrikes by either press release
or response to query has not changed.”

In light of that denial – and given a possible link between the strike and an earlier reported nearby attack on Ethiopian troops – Airwars presently determines that this was likely an AMISOM or Ethiopian action. Radio Dalsan and Badweyn Times reported the strike was conducted with fighter jets.

The incident occured at approximately 10:00 pm local time.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attackers
    amisol_military_forces, United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–4

Sources (9) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention the town of Ma’Moodow, allegedly located 40km away from the city of Hudur, with sources suggesting it being situated in the direction of Ceel Barde. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Hudur are: 4.12303, 43.890121.

  • Reports of the incident mention the town of Ma’Moodow, allegedly located 40km away from the city of Hudur, with sources suggesting it being situated in the direction of Ceel Barde.

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

amisol_military_forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    amisol_military_forces
  • amisol_military_forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

"We are aware of the reporting. U.S. Africa Command was not involved in the
Jan. 29 action referenced below. U.S. Africa Command last strike was conducted
on Jan. 19. Our policy of acknowledging all airstrikes by either press release
or response to query has not changed."

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attackers
    amisol_military_forces, United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–4

Sources (9) [ collapse]