US Africa Command declared on the same day that it had conducted an airstrike “in the vicinity of Jilib” which it said had killed “one (1) terrorist.” However local reports said that one young woman was killed and two or three other women injured in the event in Jilib town, which AFRICOM later acknowledged.
According to AFRICOM’s original press release, “In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command conducted an airstrike targeting an al-Shabaab terrorist in the vicinity of Jilib, Somalia, Feb. 2. Initial assessment concluded the airstrike killed one (1) terrorist. We currently assess no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this airstrike.”
However the day after the attack, Somali reporter Mohamed Osman Ali tweeted: “Very sad to learn that an airstrike on Sunday evening killed my brother-in-law’s daughter, and injured two of his daughters and his mother who is also my aunt and my mother-in-law in Jilib town, 380 KM south of Mogadishu. surprised to those saying no civilian casualties!”.
Naming three victims on February 4th, Radio Morad said that one civilian woman had been killed and two others injured: “#AFRICOM claimed killing 1 #AlShabaab fighter & no civilians harmed. But locals reporting 3 civilian casualties, all women.”
According to the Somali Guardian, “Residents told Somali media outlets that a US drone carried out the strike on Monday night which fired several missiles to a residential area inside Jilib town. Several missiles hit a civilian home killing a 17-year-old mentally ill girl, wounding her mother and younger sister who were then rushed to a hospital.”
According to the Defence Post, an AFRICOM official was informed by a relative of the civilian deaths prior to its announcement of no harm: “Abdi said his family was unable to obtain photo evidence of the incident because Shabaab does not allow smartphones in its territory, but confirmed the identity of his relatives in photos posted on Twitter, and provided The Defense Post with other family photos for comparison. Abdi is not sure who took the photos that were posted online, but the experienced journalist said it may have been members of al-Shabaab. He said it was possible the strike may have been targeting Shabaab militants outside the house because the group fully controls Jilib, about 110 km north of Kismayo in Somalia’s Middle Juba region.
“Abdi said he approached an American military officer from AFRICOM’s communications office during a conference in Mogadishu and detailed his story hours before the command released a statement assessing that no civilians were killed. ‘He only said sorry about your relatives,’ Abdi told The Defense Post. ‘He did not tell me anything further, or ask me. He said we try our best not to damage or hit civilian areas,’ he recalled. Ismael Mukhtar Omar, the Somalia Federal Government’s official spokesperson, corroborated Abdi’s account, saying he was present for the conversation with the AFRICOM officer.”
In April 2020, Amnesty International reported that 18-year-old Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar had been killed in the airstrike after she was struck in the head by a heavy metal fragment. The strike injured Nurto’s younger sisters. Fatuma (12) was struck in the clavicle and chest, and remains in the hospital as of April 2020. 7-year-old Adey was hit in the ear. The sister’s grandmother Khadija Mohamed Gedow (around 70 years old) was hit in the knee and is still unable to walk.
According to a weapon expert’s analysis of photographs of the munitions used, it was “likely a US GBU-69/B Small Glide Munition with a 16-kilogramme warhead” that hit the family’s house around 8pm on February 2nd. The report states that “the family of five, who lived in the home, had just sat down for dinner after the Isha prayer, about 8pm, when at least one munition struck their residence. The cariish home, made of wood, sticks and mud, was significantly damaged in the blast.”
The girls’ father, Kusow Omar Abukar (50) was also present in the house during the airstrike, but made it out without injuries. He told Amnesty: “I never imagined it was going to hit us. I suddenly heard a huge sound. It felt like our house had collapsed. There was a huge sound and a bright flash and a huge smoke. The sand and the smoke filled my eyes.” Mr. Omar Akubar is a farmer and, according to his relatives, not a member of Al Shabaab.
According to the report, “prior to the strike, witnesses heard the sound of an aircraft above Jilib, but reported that there was no sign of fighting in the area at that time.”
According to Amnesty International, neither the US or Somalian authorities have reached out to the Kusow family for compensations or medical assistance.
Responding to the Amnesty report, US Air Force Major Karl Wiest told the Defense Post on April 1st that an assessment of the incident is ongoing: “Our in-depth post-strike analysis relies on intelligence methods that are not available to non-military organizations, including Amnesty International.”
Al Jazeera interviewed Kusaw Omar Abukar via telephone, revealing more details about the incident. Abukar confirmed that his daughter Nurto had been disabled and that his surviving daughter Fadumo’s situation remained critical, stating that the girl had undergone two surgeries and is in desperate need of further medical assistance. “We don’t have good hospitals here. And we can’t afford to take her anywhere else”, her father told Al Jazeera.
Marine Corps Times reported that, following the Amnesty report, AFRICOM officials “said they intend to issue a new quarterly report on the status of ongoing civilian casualty allegations and assessments starting at the end of April .”
Human Rights Watch published a detailed investigation into the incident saying: ” Human Rights Watch investigations indicate that 1 civilian, a woman, was killed, and 3 others were injured, including 2 girls.”
The NGO also interviewed the victims: “Nurto’s aunt, who reached the family’s home the following morning, recounted what family members told her: ‘Nurto was standing along the gate, and my mum was also near the gate. The airstrike hit the ground, the pieces went up and hit Nurto in the head and killed her.’
Nurto’s and the two girls’ father, Kusow Omar Abukar, told a relative that he heard a huge sound and then couldn’t see anything for about 30 minutes, just a lot of smoke and dust. He said he could not understand what was happening to him. He told the relative, ‘I was so worried about my daughters but couldn’t see them.'”
In its second quarterly civilian casualty report, published on July 28th 2020, AFRICOM accepted responsibility for civilian harm in this event: “Between Feb. 3 and June 17, 2020 USAFRICOM received eight total allegations as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Jilib, Somalia, on February 2, 2020. After a thorough assessment into the facts and circumstances following the Feb. 2, 2020 airstrike, USAFRICOM substantiates the death of one (1) civilian and three (3) injured.”
The incident occured at approximately 8:00 pm local time.