US Africa Command initially reported that it had carried out two airstrikes in the vicinity of Janaale in the lower Shabelle region. AFRICOM stated that “the first airstrike on February 11 had killed eight militants and the second airstrike killed four militants” with a total of 12 killed.
AFRICOM added that “at this time, it was assessed no civilians were injured or killed in either airstrike.” However, in the second event – which locals placed at the village of Tuwaareey – up to 13 civilians were locally reported killed. AFRICOM later denied the claim.
Mareeg reported on February 12th for example that according to Al-Shabaab, several civilian homes had been razed by the airstrikes and suggesting that civilian harm could have occurred, though no civilian casualties were known to have been reported at the time by the terror group.
In September 2019, TRT World Research Centre alleged that up to 13 civilians were killed in what was described as a joint air and ground operation.
“On 11 February, Fatima, a 48 year old mother of 10, witnessed a US drone strike, which destroyed her home and property in the vicinity of Tuwaareey, a farming vicinity near Jannaale in the southeastern Lower Shebelle region of Somalia. Fatima was preparing breakfast on a Monday morning when airstrikes struck her village. TRT World Research Centre documented the following testimony:
‘I was at home and preparing breakfast for my children at 7:00 am on a Monday morning. The attack caused huge damage to the area.’ At the time of speaking with Fatima, the witness said ‘my daughter and her two kids are still missing since that day. I do not know if they are alive or not. My daughter was living in the small village next to mine, which are both in the same vicinity. My farmland was destroyed, including
my harvested grain’. At the time of investigating the incident for this report, it was not possible to verify what happened to Fatima’s daughter or two grandchildren.
Fatima told TRT World Research Centre that she fled the village following the attack, and traveled to an IDP camp. In a separate interview in June 201921, Fatima reiterated
that she is still not in touch with her daughter and two grandchildren. It is possible that they may have been killed in the attack or fled the area to a different IDP camp. Fatima estimated that some 10 civilians were killed in the airstrikes – among them were Fatima’s younger sister and two of her cousins (one male and one female).
‘The strikes took place in Tuuwaarreey village, near to Jannaale town. There were no Al Shabaab around us people – farmers. The attack was conducted with a ‘Diyaarad’
(plane) and the civilians were being targeted. There was an Al Shabaab base nearby to our village, but they were not present at the time of the attack’, Fatima continued…
A local news media outlet, Goobjoog News, reported lethal activity in the vicinity of Janaale in the Lower Shabelle region on the 11 February 2019. ‘The attack took place at midnight as Somali army officials confirmed to us. The report added that military planes first conducted airstrikes on an Al Shabaab base, followed by a direct gun-fight between Al Shabaab fighters and Somali soldiers who landed after the strike.’ In addition, the report states “[t]here is no confirmation of the casualties caused by this strike, but the Somali army and the U.S. soldiers have been recently launching operations against Al Shabaab.’
“TRT World Research Centre’s investigation finds evidence contrary to that of AFRICOM’s assessment that no civilians were killed in the strike. The testimony
of Fatima presents that a possible 13 civilians were killed based on testimony. Based on the interview documented for this incident, the US may have failed in taking adequate precautions to avoid any civilian casualties while pursuing Al-Shabaab. There was a lack of precision in targeting, notably in a location that is not declared a battlefield. It is likely that if the US had not executed this lethal action, the civilians would not have been affected. Under international law, indiscriminate attacks or injury to non-combatants may equate to war crimes. Thus, the US government and relevant departments must ensure an independent and impartial investigation is conducted on this lethal action.”
In a subsequent FOIA response obtained by US reporter Joshua Eaton in May 2019, AFRICOM gave the location of the strike as being in the vicinity of Janalle, and said the targets had been al Shabaab fighters.
In April 2020, AFRICOM denied civilian harm in this event: “September 23, 2019, AFRICOM received a report from a foreign non-government organization claiming thirteen (13) civilians were killed as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Janaale, Somalia, on February 11, 2019. AFRICOM received a duplicate allegation of this incident on January 21, 2020, from a foreign non-government organization. After review, the allegations were assessed to be unsubstantiated because no U.S. military strike took place at the alleged time and location.”
Airwars reached out to US Africa Command for further clarification on possible involvement of US ground forces. AFRICOM confirmed that “the term ‘strike’ is defined as U.S. munitions of any type employed by U.S. military forces under the authority of U.S. Africa Command. This includes both air and ground operations.”
An official also provided the following responses:
“1) Were US ground forces present as alleged?
USAFRICOM forces were not in the vicinity of where the alleged civilian harm occurred.
2) Did US ground forces engage in kinetic actions?
USAFRICOM executed a kinetic strike on behalf of our Somali partners in self-defense, but that strike occurred at a different time and location than the airstrikes allegedly causing civilian harm.
3) Are any US kinetic ground actions believed to have contributed to civilian harm?
USAFRICOM ground forces did not contribute to the alleged civilian harm.”
An OCCRP investigation later looked into the collection of ISR: “On February 1 and 5, 2019, a contractor-owned Gulfstream jet flew repeatedly over a small area in Lower Shabelle, about 30 kilometers west of Mogadishu. It returned to the area on March 9. The plane had a particular flight pattern — near-perfect circles — and was likely collecting data with its specialized sensors, according to experts on the subject.
On February 6 and 11, and again on March 11, U.S. airstrikes hit areas the plane apparently surveyed.”
The incident occured at approximately 7:00 am local time.