The US military and the Somali government announced they were investigating reports that ten civilians, including three children, were killed during an operation on a farm in Bariire, in Somalia’s southern Lower Shabelle region.
However, on November 28th 2017, the US published a press release concluding that only “armed enemy combatants” were killed.
Earlier that day, the Daily Beast had published a lengthy investigation into the raid. The investigation presented evidence that American soldiers were involved directly in the deaths of the ten civilians reported killed, which included eye witness accounts and the examination of bullet casings. Eyewitnesses “Abdullahi and Goomey saw their fellow farmers’ bodies sprawled across the ground. The small pot that one of them had been using to make tea still stood upright near the corpses. And they also saw what they later estimated to be around 20 American soldiers standing around the bodies. A Somali National Army soldier who was at the scene estimated 10 to 12 Americans were there.”
The investigation also claimed that “a majority of bullet casings collected from the farm that was attacked, which were seen by The Daily Beast, were from American—not Somali National Army—weapons. This appears to confirm that the Special Operations team did not command SNA while remaining behind during the operation, as the AFRICOM statement would have the public believe, but rather were responsible themselves for firing upon and killing unarmed civilians.”
Sources had also claimed to the Beast that American diplomats had also “pressured the Somali government to bury the unfavorable findings of a Somali Federal Government-led investigation into the raid.”
Following the incident, the Somali Information ministry initially said that eight al Shabaab fighters had been killed, according to AP. However it later issued a statement acknowledging the reports of civilian casualties, while adding that there had been different security operations taking place in the area. VOA later said that the Somali army had admitted that its own forces, supported by US troops, had mistakenly shot dead 10 civilians, including three children.
“It was not a deliberate action. It was an accident and misunderstanding between the forces and local farmers in the area,” Somali army chief General Ahmed Jimale Irfid told VOA. “It was early Friday morning while it was dark, our forces mistook the local farmers as al Shabaab members; some farmers were armed; there was a shoot-out, we don’t know who started the shooting and that is how the incident started.”
Witnesses and local officials told the media that the civilians were killed by shots fired during a raid by Somali and US forces on the farm early morning on August 25th. The deputy governor of the region, Ali Nur Mohamed, said for example that the farmers were killed “one by one” after soldiers stormed the village. “These local farmers were attacked by foreign troops while looking after their crops,” Mohamed told reporters. “The troops could have arrested them because they were unarmed but instead shot them one by one mercilessly.”
Three children aged between 8 and 10 and a woman were also killed, he added. When Reuters visited a local hospital, they saw nine bodies including three children said to be aged 8, 9 and 10 years old. Medics said an elderly man later died which would bring the death toll to ten. At least one of the dead was a child, according to the Daily Beast investigation.
Garowe Online named the ten people allegedly killed, but listed them all as farmers. There was no mention of the children in its reporting.
A witness told Reuters: “It was this morning when white and Somali forces entered the farm. All the 10 people were asleep and I ran for my life.” A clan elder also said the victims were sleeping when US and Somali forces came onto the farm.
Lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow told Reuters the raid was possibly the result of misleading intelligence. The area was reportedly the centre of a feud between two powerful clans and he said he believed one group may have tipped off security forces that the other side were insurgents. Those killed, he said, were simply farmers – armed to defend themselves against the rival group.
This was not the first such accusation. In September 2016, a US strike in in Galkayo killed between 10 and 22 members of a local militia from Galmudug region. Galmudug region’s Security Minister Osman Issa blamed intelligence forces in the Puntland region for giving the US incorrect information. The two regions had clashed on a number of occasions.
Clan elder Abukar Osman Sheikh told Reuters: “They were sleeping in their farm when US and Somali forces came into their farm and opened fire. Last year, the US killed my people in Galkayo in a deliberate strike. We shall not bury them. We shall no longer tolerate it.”
The bodies of the victims were taken to the capital, Mogadishu, and left on public display before burial, in a show of anger.
A year after its original investigation, in November 2018 the Daily Beast published an update in which it directly alleged that US soldiers had fired on the civilians: “According to the Somali National Army (SNA) soldier who was with the American special operators during the incident, the team approached the farm where the incident occurred with eight U.S. soldiers in front of the 20 Somali National Army soldiers and four U.S. operators behind them.
The Americans in the lead then fired on two unarmed people who were preparing tea, after which Somali National Army soldiers rushed forward and fired on three farmers in a nearby shed. The U.S. soldiers began firing at others in the farming village who came out of their homes.
The account by the SNA soldier, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, corroborated earlier Daily Beast reporting and contradicts a U.S. Africa Command press release issued 30 minutes after The Daily Beast published its months-long investigation into the incident.”
The Beast added that “None of the over two dozen Somali National Army members, clan elders, surviving farmers, or security and government officials interviewed in the course of The Daily Beast investigation were contacted by U.S. investigators, raising questions in Somalia as to whether any of the investigation’s sources included those outside the U.S. military.”
The incident occured at approximately 5:00 am local time.