A US drone strike near Bariire on October 16th was confirmed by the US military. However, numerous allegations of civilian harm by international media have been denied.
Whilst US Africa Command did not initially publish a press release regarding this strike, they confirmed to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at the time that they carried out a strike against al Shabaab at 16:30 local time. A spokesperson said the operation occurred in southern Somalia, about 35 miles southwest of Mogadishu.
The Guardian published an article in January 2018 detailing recent strikes in Somalia that had seen allegations of civilian casualties. One took place on an unspecified day in October. US officials had confirmed a single strike 35 miles southwest of Mogadishu. Local sources told the Guardian that eight civilians in the village of Awdhegle had been injured. An elder from the village said said that three women, a child and four men were transported to a hospital in Mogadishu after their house was hit.“They were herders and farmers, not al-Shabaab ,” the elder said. A doctor at the hospital told the Guardian two men and a woman injured in an airstrike between Awdhegle and Barire were treated.
In March 2019, Amnesty International published a major report on civilian harm in Somalia that detailed this incident. Their report claimed that a US armed drone twice targeted a suspected al Shabaab vehicle travelling between Awdheegle and Bariire – two al Shabaab controlled towns. The attacks reportedly killed two nearby civilians and injured five others, including two children, alongside an unknown number of al Shaabab fighters.
Amnesty spoke to eyewitnesses who told them that the first strike missed the vehicle and struck the eastern bank of the road next to some makeshift homes in a settlement. This strike allegedly killed Sheikh Ahmed Sheikh Yusuf Hussein, a 25 year old farmer. A second munition was then fired that struck the vehicle as it was continuing to the north of the settlement.
Bashir, who fled the attack, told Amnesty that he returned to find Sheikh Ahmed dying in his home – just 20 steps away from where the munition had struck – as shrapnel had gone right through him.
Amnesty also named Siidow Abdullahi Mohamed Hassan, a 40 year old farmer as being fatally injured in the attack – he was reportedly taken to Sudan for further treatment before he died a few days later.
A further five civilians were injured in the drone strike, including the eight year old son of Siidow, Mohamed Siidow Abdullahi, and a six year old boy named Khalif Adow Osman.
The NGO added that “According to records obtained by Amnesty International, a total of 12 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II laser-guided bombs were dropped by the US Air Force in Somalia on this day. Those weapons were fired from MQ-9 Reaper drones, based in Djibouti. Two Hellfire missiles were most likely used in this attack, based on the types and extent of damage and injuries, and that a munition with a powered rocket-motor is more-often used to strike a moving vehicle.”
US Africa Command denied that any civilians were harmed in response to Amnesty’s allegations:
“AFRICOM conducted a precision-guided strike that corresponds to the time and location alleged, targeting a vehicle containing al-Shabaab fighters. Social media posts alleged CIVCAS shortly after the event. AFRICOM conducted a CIVCAS allegation assessment regarding this strike and determined it is not likely to have caused the civilian casualties. Information gathered before and after the strike indicated that all individuals injured or killed were members or affiliates of al-Shabaab.”
It said it still assessed that the strike resulted in “three enemy wounded in action and one vehicle destroyed”.
Responding to the AFRICOM statements, Amnesty noted: “The fact that the vehicle and those in it were the apparent targets would support the assertions that those killed or injured beside the road were civilians uninvolved in the conflict. The burden is on the US military to explain why they do not count these individuals, including children, who were not the intended targets but nevertheless were killed and injured, as civilian casualties.
Amnesty International’s evidence above establishes that contrary to AFRICOM’s assessment, civilians were killed during the attack in Farah Waeys. The evidence also suggests that the US failed to take necessary precautions to ensure that their objective – which in this case appears have been a truck of Al-Shabaab members – was targeted at the appropriate time and with sufficient precision to minimize the likelihood of damage to civilians and civilian objects. Since the targeted vehicle was travelling along the road between Awdheegle and Barire and the vast majority of the area adjacent to the road that runs between the two towns is uninhabited, this raises questions as to why the US military attacked when civilians were in the immediate vicinity, when it appears to have had opportunities to do so in locations where no civilians would be at risk. If feasible precautions were taken civilians may have been spared.
“Given the glaring failure to take feasible precautions to spare civilians, the attack may have been indiscriminate and the fatalities and injuries, and damage caused, unlawful. Indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians can constitute war crimes. The US authorities should ensure an independent, impartial investigation is conducted into this attack.”
In a subsequent FOIA response obtained by journalist Joshua Eaton in May 2019, AFRICOM said it had struck what it says were al Shabaab fighters, in the vicinity of Mubaraak.
The incident occured at 4:30 pm local time.
- Siidow Abdullahi Mohamed Hassan 40 years old male killed
- Sheikh Ahmed Sheikh Yusuf Hussein 25 years old male killed
- Mohamed Siidow Abdullahi 8 years old male injured
- Khalif Adow Osman 6 years old male injured
Sources (10) [ collapse]
Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted a vehicle between Awdheegle and Bariire. According to Amnesty research the coordinates for the location of the strike are: 1.9922, 44.861, in the village Farah Waeys.
United States Armed Forces Assessment:
Civilian casualty statements
Nov 1, 2018
AFRICOM conducted a precision-guided strike that corresponds to the time and location alleged, targeting a vehicle containing al-Shabaab fighters. Social media posts alleged CIVCAS shortly after the event. AFRICOM conducted a CIVCAS allegation assessment regarding this strike and determined it is not likely to have caused the civilian casualties. Information gathered before and after the strike indicated that all individuals injured or killed were members or affiliates of al-Shabaab.
Original strike reports
"(...) in coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Somalia against al-Shabaab on Mon., Oct. 16 at approximately 4:30 p.m. local Somalia time.
We are currently assessing the results of the strike.
The operation occurred in southern Somalia, about 35 miles southwest of the capital, Mogadishu."