A US drone strike on September 28th killed at least ten members of a local friendly militia and not al Shabaab militants as the US had initially believed, according to local communities and an investigation by the Washington Post. Between three and 16 additional members of the Galmadug militia were injured.
At least one source, Al Jazeera, reported that the Somali government believed that 22 “soldiers and civilians” had been killed in strikes against northern Somalia. Others said that all of the up to 22 people killed were friendly forces.
According to the Washington Post, which published its investigation on November 10th 2016, “On Sept. 28, Puntland security forces were sent to investigate a ‘suspicious group,’ thought to be al-Shabab based on American surveillance imagery, according to the U.S. official. American forces accompanied the patrol as advisers, until they neared the unknown group. It was early in the morning, and visibility was limited when Puntland forces ‘started taking fire,’ said the U.S. official. They asked for air support, and the U.S. military launched the drone strike.
“Shortly after the attack, officials in Galmadug began accusing the United States of killing its own allies. They released images of government vehicles destroyed by the strike. There were protests in the streets. People burned American flags. In interviews with The Washington Post in a hospital in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, two survivors of the strike who belonged to the Galmadug forces described the way it had hammered their unit. ‘Small aircraft, sounding like flies, started hovering over us,’ said one survivor, Ali Adan Mohamed. ‘At about six in the morning the airstrike started, the aircraft fired three missiles. I believed that the U.S. was neutral, but now it seems to me that they have sided with one of two clans,’ he said.
“When Galmadug state officials heard what happened, they were furious with the Americans. ‘There is not any justification that could lead to such disaster,’ Minister Osman Ise Nur, the head of Galmadug’s security operations, said in a phone interview. ‘We were amazed with what has happened to our forces despite the fact that they were fighting al-Shabab.’
— Somalia Live Update (@HassanIstiila) September 28, 2016
At first AFRICOM claimed to have killed al Shabaab fighers in the action, reporting that it had conducted a “self-defence strike” in Galcayo resulting in the deaths of nine alleged al Shabaab fighters. Somali forces were disrupting an IED making network when they were attacked by a group of al Shabaab fighters, it said. The US intervened to “neutralize the threat”.
Concerns were raised almost immediately, though AFRICOM initially denied it had erred. It told the Bureau in an email on September 29th: “We have seen reports alleging non-combatant casualties as a result of this defensive strike. We have assessed all credible evidence and determined those reports are incorrect.”
However, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the next day that the US would in fact investigate the reports. US Africa Command then confirmed in an email to the Bureau that a formal assessment had been initiated.
On November 15th AFRICOM issued a revised statement, asserting: “A group of armed fighters attacked a PSF-led patrol in early daylight. PSF forces returned fire in self-defense, but were unable to subdue the attack or withdraw without suffering casualties,” read the statement. US forces conducted a strike “at the request of PSF forces and based on their own assessment of the situation”.
The new press release added: “U.S. forces lawfully and appropriately used force to defend the PSF element in response to the attack by the local militia forces against that U.S.-partner force.”
Somali officials claimed that the US killed a total of 22 local soldiers and civilians. 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.
Somalia’s government then requested an explanation from the US. A government statement read: “The cabinet requests the US government give a clear explanation about the attack its planes carried out on the Galmudug forces.”
According to the Washington Post, the US ambassador to Somalia met with the president of Galmudug and local officials who claim an apology was given. The US has never publicly confirmed this. The US Mission to Somalia did however issue a press release on October 11th which said the ambassador had met with Somali officials in Mogadishu.
The press release added that the US “seeks to improve its communication and collaboration with Galmudug security forces and the Somali National Army to fight al-Shabaab”.
The incident occured at 6:00 am local time.
Sources (9) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted a base at Jehdin village, 30 kilometres east of the town Galkayo (6.771437, 47.42839). Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location of Jehdin village. The coordinates for the area 30 kilometres east of Galkayo are: 6.753766, 47.699407.
United States Armed Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
U.S. Africa Command Completes Assessment on Galcayo Strike
U.S. Africa Command press release
By U.S. AFRICA COMMAND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, United States Africa CommandNov 15, 2016
On September 28, U.S. forces conducted a self-defense strike in Galcayo, Somalia, in support of a partner force, an element of the Puntland Security Forces (PSF), conducting counter-terrorism operations.
A group of armed fighters attacked a PSF-led patrol in early daylight. PSF forces returned fire in self-defense, but were unable to subdue the attack or withdraw without suffering casualties. At the request of PSF forces and based on their own assessment of the situation, U.S. forces conducted a strike to neutralize the threat to the PSF element, killing 10 armed fighters and wounding 3 others.
On October 4, U.S. Africa Command directed that an assessment be conducted to review the circumstances surrounding the strike and to evaluate if there were any civilian casualties as a result. The assessment reached the following conclusions:
Sufficient evidence was presented to conclude no civilian casualties were caused by the September 28 strike.
The armed fighters who attacked the PSF patrol at the time were believe to be part of al-Shabaab, but with further review it was determined they were local militia forces.
U.S. forces lawfully and appropriately used force to defend the PSF element in response to the attack by the local militia forces against that U.S.-partner force.
No U.S. forces were killed or injured as a result of this incident.
It is important to note that the United States is working with the government of Somalia, and our AMISOM partners, to counter the terrorist group al-Shabaab. This is a group that has killed and terrorized civilians, police, and military units across Somalia and its neighboring countries.