Up to seven civilians, including up to five children and a woman, were killed and up to five others, including children, were injured during an operation that has been declared by the Somali government. The US has denied directly participating in the operation despite accusations of US drone/air strikes, while the Somali government has denied responsibility for the civilian casualties. The operation occurred in Oodweyn village on September 6, 2023.
Reuters reported that a suspected drone strike resulted in the death of five civilians and three al-Shabaab militants after the militants hid in a civilian home containing a family. Reuters quoted Somalia’s state news agency SONNA which reported that a woman and two children were killed by a landmine that was hidden in a civilian home by al-Shabaab militants. Local leader Farah Aden told Reuters that one of the militants knew the owner of the home and “They were seated outside the house and were busy enjoying meat and rice. As they ate the meat, the drone struck them. The house was not struck and civilians were not targeted. The civilians were hit by the shrapnel of the bomb.”
However, Amal Ali, a relative of the victims, told AP that the airstrike targeted an al-Shabaab vehicle as it was passing near a family home, killing a grandmother and five of her grandchildren, and the children’s father Dahir Ahmed confirmed the incident but not the details. The grandfather of the children, Ahmed Mohamud Shuuke, told VOA Somali that the children – four boys by his son and a girl from his daughter – were staying with his wife (their grandmother) the night of the strikes, and that he and the children’s parents were away that night. Shuuke said that “This disaster came upon them, and we don’t know where it came from” but that he thought that there had been an airstrike. He added that there were tracks of vehicles at the site of the incident the morning after, and that “Their bodies have been taken away. Up to now we don’t know their whereabouts,” including any surviving relatives.
Abdifatah Ali Halane, secretary-general of the El-Garas administration, told AP that the incident was a US airstrike and that the airstrike killed three people, including two al-Shabaab members, and injured five people, including four children. @AUC31 reported that seven civilians had been killed.
Al-Shabaab’s Politics & Provinces Office released a statement accusing the US of carrying out airstrikes and a ground raid at 10pm, which killed six civilians, including four children from the same family, a female relative, and their grandmother: Mus’ab Daahir Ahmed (3 years old), Abdirahman Daahir Ahmed (4 years old), Abdi Mahad Daahir Ahmed (5 years old), Abdiqani Daahir Ahmed (7 years old), Ikhlaas Ahmad (7 years old), Kaaha Takar Warsame (60 years old). The attack also resulted in wounded livestock.
The Somali Ministry of Information confirmed that an operation carried out in West El-lahelay resulted in the death of al-Shabaab militants Olol Ali Guled, the head of the al-Shabaab’s insurgent militia in Galmudug, Shuuke Ali Dheeg and Isse Barre. Shabelle Media Network reported that a total of five al-Shabaab militants, including Olol, were killed in the “joint” military operation between the Somali government and foreign partners.
AFRICOM released a statement two days after the operation, on September 8th, denying their responsibility for the civilian casualties: “On September 6, 2023, a Somali national force conducted a counter-terrorism operation in the vicinity of El-Lahelay, Somalia. The command’s initial assessment is that three al Shabaab leaders were killed as a result of the operation and, unfortunately, civilians were injured and killed in the vicinity of the operation. U.S. forces were not onsite for the operation and did not conduct air strikes during or in support of the operation. In response to a request from the Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command medically evacuated injured civilians. The claim being spread by al Shabaab that U.S. forces caused the unfortunate harm to civilians is false.”
Major Jessica Tait from AFRICOM told VOA in an email that “The command’s initial assessment is that one woman and three children were killed at the site,” she said. “At the request of the government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command medically evacuated two injured children, with one surviving.” Tait added that US forces “did not fire at any time while conducting the medical evacuation.” Minister of Information Daud Aweis told VOA Somali that “The government has received reports that civilians were hurt. An investigation is ongoing to verify that. We can’t confirm yet until the investigation is done.”
The incident occured during the night.