US Forces in Somalia

Library image of an armed Reaper drone, December 2019 (US Air Force/ Senior Sergeant Haley Stevens)

Belligerent
US Forces
Country
Somalia
start date
end date
Airwars Grading
Belligerent Assessment
Strike Status
Strike Type
Air

Incident Code

USSOM048-C

Incident date

April 1, 2016

Location

Buufow, Lower Shabelle, Somalia

Geolocation

1.75095, 44.74449 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Village

Airwars assessment

At least four and up to 23 al Shabaab fighters were reported killed in a US airstrike at Buufow, near Janaaale. However more than three years later, one civilian fatality was also alleged.

Two US actions on April 1st and April 2nd were later said to be “self-defence air strikes against al Shabaab fighters who posed imminent threats to US and partner nation forces in Somalia,” Department of Defense spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Michelle Baldanza told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism via email.

She continued: “Our forces are working closely with partners to combat al Shabaab. Al Shabaab has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda; and is dedicated to creating safe havens for terrorist operations and is planning on conducting external attacks in and from Africa. We continue to assess the results of the strikes and will provide additional information as and when appropriate.”

The attacks hit on the same days that ground operations by AMISOM and Somali forces killed several al Shabaab fighters. It was not clear if the US strikes were in support of these ground operations or if they were separate incidents.

According to Voice of America, four al Shabaab militants including the  local commander for Janaale died: “Another suspected U.S. airstrike Friday [April 1st] was reported to have killed a commander known as ‘Qorilow,’ the head of al-Shabab forces in Jannaale town, and three other militants.”

However AMISOM reported up to 23 militant deaths from air and ground operations. According to Xinhua, “AMISOM’s Sector One Commander Brigadier General Sam Okiding confirmed on Saturday that Al-Shabaab commander for the region of Janaale Abdirashir Buqdube, together with 22 others, was killed following air strikes and ground operations against the insurgents’ hideout along the Buufow road. ‘Al-Shabaab cannot hide and we shall continue to work hard to deny them safe haven until the people have been liberated from Al-Shabaab terror,’ Okiding said in a statement issued in Mogadishu.”

In December 2019, US investigative reporter Amanda Sperber reported civilian harm in association with this event: “Nurto Mohamed Nor Issak, 59, doesn’t want to talk about the coconut trees she lost after the U.S. air strike three years ago. She wants to talk about her son who was killed. Who cares about her trees?  Based on Issak’s recollections, the strike was likely one of two carried out April 1 and April 2, 2016, near where Issak lives, in Janale—about 60 miles southwest of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

“The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates as many as 29 people were killed by the air attacks. The Pentagon claims the April 2016 strikes were self-defense against fighters with the militant Islamist group al-Shabab who “posed imminent threats to U.S. and partner nation forces in Somalia.” Issak is adamant that her son was not with the militants and that she told him “not to mix with al-Shabab.”

“The reason I’m speaking with Issak, though, is that—regardless of her son’s alleged association with al-Shabab—her coconut trees are still decapitated and her income depleted, three years hence. Issak says the strike hit her sugarcane and coconut tree plantation, which stretched about 7 acres. Al-Shabab bans smartphones in the villages it controls, but Issak managed to use one to take photos of the damage. “The coconut trees lost their heads,” she says. In the pictures, the tree trunks are stark against the blue sky, masts without sails.”

The local time of the incident is unknown.

  • Son of Nurto Mohamed Nor Issak Adult male Unclear if civilian non combatant or combatant killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (1 man)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected attackers
    Amisom Military Forces, Somalia Military Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    4–23

Sources (6) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • Illustration by Matt Rota depicting destroyed coconut trees reportedly damaged in this event.

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention that the raid took place near the village of Buufow, near Janaale. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the precise location of the raid. The coordinates for the village Buufow are: 1.75095, 44.74449.

  • The village Buufow near Janaale

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

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

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

"On April 1 and April 2, US forces conducted two self-defense air strikes against Al Shabaab fighters who posed imminent threats to U.S. and partner nation forces in Somalia. Our forces are working closely with partners to combat Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda; and is dedicated to creating safe havens for terrorist operations and is planning on conducting external attacks in and from Africa. We continue to assess the results of the strikes and will provide additional information as and when appropriate."
Via email from Pentagon spokesperson, however original email has not been retreived

Amisom Military Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Amisom Military Forces
  • Amisom Military Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Somalia Military Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Somalia Military Forces
  • Somalia Military Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (1 man)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected attackers
    Amisom Military Forces, Somalia Military Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    4–23

Sources (6) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM047

Incident date

March 31, 2016

Location

Between Jilib and Kamsuuma, Middle Juba, Somalia

Geolocation

0.379484, 42.804503 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Neighbourhood/area

Airwars assessment

A US drone strike targeted a vehicle carrying three al Shabaab figures in southern Somalia. The attack hit in the early evening and killed a senior al Shabaab leader, Hassan Ali Dhoore, according to the Pentagon. There were additional reports that two other militants were killed alongside Hassan Ali Dhoore. There are currently no reports of civilian harm from this strike.

The Pentagon said the strike had targeted Hassan Ali Dhoore, “a senior leader of al Shabaab, who is part of al Qaeda”. The strike was conducted “in cooperation with the Federal Government of Somalia,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement.

Dhoore was also reportedly responsible for killing US citizens in two attacks in Mogadishu, and plotting unspecified future attacks on the city.

The US did not officially confirm Dhoore was dead until April 4th when spokesperson Peter Cook briefed reporters. In the intervening time, the Pentagon maintained it was “still assessing the results of this operation”.

During the few days before Dhoore’s death was confirmed, unnamed defence officials told some US journalists that the drone strike had most likely killed Dhoore along with two other al Shabaab fighters in the early evening. The officials said the US military had been “watching him off and on for a long time” and the Somali government shared information that led to the attack.

The precise circumstances of the strike were confused by the deputy commander of Somalia’s army, General Abi Bashe, who told Voice of America that Somali commandos operating in al Shabaab territory had located and identified Dhoore. Bashe said Dhoore had been killed in a village called Toratorow, in a gun battle between Somali forces, their US advisers, and al Shabaab. He said it was not clear whether Dhoore was killed by gun fire or the drone strike.

A Pentagon spokesperson denied any gun battle occurred, saying the US had specifically targeted Dhoore near Jillib.

According to the New York Times, “One United States official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe initial assessments of the attack, said the military believed that Mr. Dhoore and two others had been killed in the strike, which occurred near Jilib, south of Mogadishu.”

VOA reported that “at least two other Somali militants were killed along with Dhore”.

In a subsequent FOIA response obtained by journalist Joshua Eaton in May 2019, AFRICOM  confirmed it had struck what it says was an “al-Shabaab named objective”, 30 km south of Jilib, Somalia.

The incident occured in the evening.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–3

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted a vehicle between the towns Jilib and Kamsuuma, in the area 30 kilometers south of the town Jilib. The coordinates for the middle point of the road between these two towns are: 0.379484, 42.804503. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

  • The road between Jilib and Kamsuuma

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

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

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

On April 1st 2016, the Pentagon stated:

In cooperation with the Federal Government of Somalia, on Thursday, March 31, the U.S. military conducted an airstrike in Somalia against Hassan Ali Dhoore, a senior leader of al-Shabaab, who is part of al-Qa'ida. While we are still assessing the results of this operation, removing Dhoore from the battlefield would be a significant blow to al-Shabaab's operational planning and ability to conduct attacks against the government of the Federal Republic of Somalia, its citizens, U.S. partners in the region, and against Americans abroad.

In addition to being part of al-Qa'ida, Hassan Ali Dhoore was a member of al-Shabaab's Amniyat (security and intelligence) wing and was heavily involved in high profile attack planning in Mogadishu. He had planned and overseen attacks resulting in the death of at least three U.S. citizens.

Dhoore played a direct role in the December 25, 2014 attack on Mogadishu International Airport, resulting in the death of several African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) personnel and one U.S. citizen. Dhoore was also directly responsible for the March 27, 2015 attack on the Maka al-Mukarram Hotel in Mogadishu, resulting in the deaths of 15 people, including one Somali-American national. Hassan was believed to have been plotting attacks targeting U.S. citizens in Mogadishu.

We will provide additional information as and when appropriate.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–3

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM046

Incident date

March 8, 2016

Location

Awdheegle, Lower Shabelle, Somalia

Geolocation

1.977202, 44.833162 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Village

Airwars assessment

At least 19 alleged militants were killed in a joint operation between US and Somali forces in the village of Awdhegle. US attack helicopters supported US and Somali Special Forces who attacked an al Shabaab target in southern Somalia, the Pentagon and Somali officials said.

The assault took place overnight. The soldiers flew on US helicopters to a landing zone a few miles outside the target in the town of Awdhegle. US troops accompanied the Somali troops but did not “go all the way to the objective,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis. The US forces “served in an advisory role to enable the Somali operation,” Davis said. “It was their mission. We were acting in an advisory role.”

ENCA reported that “Special forces operatives in two helicopters targeted the Shebaab-controlled town of Awdhegele, about 50km west of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, Somali government officials and a Shebaab spokesman said. ‘We have reports Shebaab militants suffered casualties,” local district commissioner Mohamed Aweys told reporters.'”

The incident occured around midnight.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected attacker
    Somalia Military Forces
  • Belligerents reported killed
    19

Sources (2) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention that the raid targeted a militant base in the village Awdheegle. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the precise location of the raid. The coordinates for the village Awdheegle are: 1.977202, 44.833162.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

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

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

New York Times, March 9th, 2016:

"Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said that American attack helicopters were used in the operation, and that American military personnel had accompanied Somali troops but that they did not “go all the way to the objective.”
He would not say whether the Americans stayed on the helicopters throughout the operation.
“I can tell you that U.S. military personnel served in an advisory role to enable the Somali operation,” he said, but insisted that “it was their mission. We were acting in an advisory role.”"

Somalia Military Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Somalia Military Forces
  • Somalia Military Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected attacker
    Somalia Military Forces
  • Belligerents reported killed
    19

Sources (2) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM045

Incident date

March 5, 2016

Location

Raso camp, Hiiraan, Somalia

Geolocation

3.55507, 45.05592 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Village

Airwars assessment

US drones and jets reportedly killed between 150 and 200 alleged members of al Shabaab in a strike on a training camp in Somalia, 120 miles north of Mogadishu. There are currently no associated reports of civilian harm.

The total killed could in fact be higher. The district governor for Buloburte told the BBC’s Somali language radio service that many more than 150 were killed, including 18 senior members of the group. The US said as many as 200 people were at the camp when the strike hit.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said “that there were no known civilian casualties.”

Al Shabaab for its part said the US was over-exaggerating the casualties caused by the strike. Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesperson, told Reuters: “The US bombed an area controlled by al Shabaab. But they exaggerated the figure of casualties. We never gather 100 fighters in one spot for security reasons. We know the sky is full of planes.” He did not provide an alternate casualty figure.

A Pentagon spokesperson told journalists: “The fighters were there training and were training for a large-scale attack. We know they were going to be departing the camp and they posed an imminent threat to US and [African Union] forces.” He added: “It was an air operation. Initial assessments are that more than 150 terrorist fighters were eliminated.”

The US said it had had the base under observation for several weeks. The strike hit during what US official said appeared to be a graduation ceremony. US aircraft fired several bombs and missiles at the al Shabaab fighters who “were standing outdoors in formation“.

An eye witness, camel-herder Bashir Dhure, told the Guardian: “All nearby places were caught on fire and no one knew what was happening. In the morning I could see the smoke coming from the bombarded training facility.

“It was like a burnt house. Everything turned burnt. I saw three vehicles burnt down. Al-Shabaab fighters were collecting dead bodies. They were put on trucks and took out of the village. We do not know where they were buried.”

After the strike, al Shabaab fighters searched for “spies”, Dhure said. This was corroborated by the district governor who told the BBC the terrorists were confiscating phones and imprisoning people in a desperate search for whoever might have tipped the Somali and US authorities to the presence of the camp.

Two al Shabaab commanders were claimed at the time to  have been killed. Yusuf Ali Ugas was described as an influential preacher, recruiter and regional commander. Mohammed Mire was reported to be a leading member of the group’s finance wing. Both were later found to be alive, as Africa Confidential reported.

Unnamed witnesses told Voice of America’s Somali service the aircraft made two passes over the camp, firing three missiles each time. Two Somali intelligence officials told Associated Press the training camp was in a forested area and was al Shabaab’s main planning base. One official said the targeted fighters were planning on attacking a drone base in the region.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook later said: “On Saturday, March 5, the US military, in self-defence and in defence of our African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) partners, conducted an airstrike in Somalia against Raso Camp, a training facility of al Shabaab, which is a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda. The strike was conducted using manned and unmanned aircraft. The fighters who were scheduled to depart the camp posed an imminent threat to US and [Amisom] forces in Somalia.

The removal of these fighters degrades al Shabaab’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Somalia, including recruiting new members, establishing bases, and planning attacks on US and Amisom forces. We continue to assess the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate.”

Peter Pham, director of the Africa Centre at the the Atlantic Council thinktank told the Wall Street Journal: “What was surprising was that [al] Shabaab felt confident enough to assemble in such a way… It may not hold territory like it held back five or six years ago, but it is far from being defeated and one can argue that the threat has actually expanded with the numerous attacks that it has carried out not only in Somalia, but across the border in northeastern Kenya.”

“That al Shabaab had that many recruits in training at just one location… is a worrying indicator of the group’s continued relevance and its power to attract… The fact that al Shabaab feels emboldened enough to gather so many together in one place, these are hardly signs of a group on the run,” Pham told the Guardian.

This was the highest death toll from a single attack hitherto recorded. The unprecedented death toll outstripped the previous highest: 81 killed in Pakistan in October 2006.

In a subsequent FOIA response obtained by journalist Joshua Eaton in May 2019, AFRICOM again confirmed it had carried out on a strike on what it says was “an al-Shabaab name objective” in Raso, Somalia on March 5th 2016.

The incident occured during the night.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Belligerents reported killed
    150–200

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted an Al Shabaab training facility called Raso, between or near the villages Dhariyow and El Dibi. The coordinates for the village Raso are: 3.55507, 45.05592. According to various mapping sources the settlements Dhariyow and El Dibi (or Ceel Dibi, most likely referring to a well) find themselves right next to each other at these coordinates: 3.66587, 44.90105. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the precise location of the camp and strike.

  • Dhariyow, Ceel Dibi and Raso

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

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

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

On March 7th 2016, the Pentagon released the following press release:

Statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook on Airstrike in Somalia
On Saturday, March 5, the U.S. military, in self-defense and in defense of our African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) partners, conducted an airstrike in Somalia against Raso Camp, a training facility of al-Shabaab, which is a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. The strike was conducted using manned and unmanned aircraft. The fighters who were scheduled to depart the camp posed an imminent threat to U.S. and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces in Somalia.

The removal of these fighters degrades al-Shabaab's ability to meet the group's objectives in Somalia, including recruiting new members, establishing bases, and planning attacks on U.S. and AMISOM forces.

We continue to assess the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Belligerents reported killed
    150–200

Sources (18) [ collapse]