Five civilians were reportedly killed in a US and/or Somali-waged ground operation – possibly also involving airpower – in the Lower Shabelle region, local and international media reported. The US denied allegations of harm on several occasions.
The raid was reportedly carried out by Somalia commandos, with the US saying American troops supported the mission in an “advise and assist” capacity. Additionally, three local al Shabaab members were captured.
The raid took place in or near the village of Ma’alinka in the Lower Shabelle region. While a Somali intelligence official said the site targeted was a “key hideout and coordination centre” of al Shabaab, relatives and locals said it was a banana farm.
Reports soon surfaced of as many as five civilians being killed in the raid, who were allegedly shot dead. Ali Mohamed Moalin, an elder from the area, said “two military helicopters” were involved as well as “some foreign special forces”. “There are five dead bodies of innocent farmers who have been killed by the special forces last night,” said Moalin.
Associated Press noted: “People who described themselves as relatives of the people killed in Wednesday’s raid expressed bewilderment. “They were not armed nor were they al-Shabab members,” said Ibrahim Ahmed, who said he was a family member of one man killed. I don’t understand why a farm would make a target for a raid,” he added, pointing at one of the bloodied bodies that had been laid out on the ground outside a hospital in the capital, Mogadishu.”
Goobjoog reported that one person was critically injured and five civilian farmers killed. “The bodies of five people who were killed in a Somali and foreign forces operation in the outskirts of Afgooye, town some 40 kilometres south west of Mogadishu were transported to Mogadishu Thursday. The five bodies were first taken to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters before they were moved to Medina Hospital. Goobjoog News correspondent Ali Mumin reporting from the hospital said one person who was critically injured was taken to Digfer Hospital for specialised treatment.”
The Daily Beast published a detailed account of the attack, highlighting the complexity surrounding US military activity in Somalia. “Five locals were injured by the Somali commandos and at some point during a firefight with people whose identities no one could agree upon, five local people were killed,” journalist Christina Goldbaum wrote.
Soon after the incident, the Somali government denied the allegations of civilian casualties. US Africa Command said it would review information on the raid but announced in June 2018 that after a “thorough” review the allegations had been deemed “not credible”.
Moreover, three others, reportedly local al Shabaab members, were said to have been captured in the raid, as reported by AP News.
The US said the raid took place near Bulcida, which is on the outskirts of Afgoye. APF also placed the attack near Afgoye. The Daily Beast and Garowe Online said the raid occurred in Ma’alinka village near Bariire, which was also the site of a deadly raid in August 2017. Bariire is close to Afgoye.
In July 2019, US investigative reporter Nick Turse obtained a declassified AFRICOM report on recent civilian harm assessments, which added significant additional knowledge on the event. While accepting that five people were killed and one wounded by ‘partner forces’, the assessment “suggest[s] that the individuals killed and wounded in the raid were al-Shabaab fighters.”
In August 2021, AFRICOM published what it said was a reassessment of the event after receiving a complaint via its reporting portal – though once again determined that no civilian harm had taken place: “(Unsubstantiated) May 31, 2021, U.S. Africa Command received one (1) report via the U.S. Africa Command civilian casualty reporting website claiming five (5) civilians were killed as a result of a joint Somali-U.S. military operation, occurring on May 9, 2018, in the vicinity of Moalinka, Somalia. This is a duplicate of civilian casualty reports U.S. Africa Command received in May 2018 in which an assessment was opened and determined that U.S. military action did not result in any casualties. Additionally, multiple sources of post-operation intelligence confirmed that any partner force action resulted in casualties only to al-Shabaab members, including one al-Shabaab commander.”
The incident occured at 01:00:00 local time.
The victims were named as:
Sources (10) [ collapse]
from sources (4) [ collapse]
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Reports of the incident mention that the raid targeted a farm and houses near a borehole, in the northeast of a village called Ma’alinka. Another source mentions that the raid took place in the vicinity of Bulcida, near the town Afgoye. Northwest of Afgoye is a village called Bulcida Macalinka, for which the coordinates are: 2.0887147, 44.9833057. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we weren’t able to verify the precise location of the strike, however, the coordinates for the northeast area of the village are: 2.090326, 44.990577.
US Forces Assessment:
Civilian casualty statements
(Unsubstantiated) May 31, 2021, U.S. Africa Command received one (1) report via the U.S. Africa Command civilian casualty reporting website claiming five (5) civilians were killed as a result of a joint Somali-U.S. military operation, occurring on May 9, 2018, in the vicinity of Moalinka, Somalia. This is a duplicate of civilian casualty reports U.S. Africa Command received in May 2018 in which an assessment was opened and determined that U.S. military action did not result in any casualties. Additionally, multiple sources of post-operation intelligence confirmed that any partner force action resulted in casualties only to al-Shabaab members, including one al-Shabaab commander.
A detailed assessment was revealed in a FOIA response to journalist Nick Turse in July 2019: CIVCAS allegation brought to USAFRICOM's attention on 12 May 2018. The location and timing of the allegation corresponds to the geographic location of a known operation, but the number and characterization of those killed varied. The allegation did not contain information or images that correlated to this incident. NOT/ NOT CREDIBLE: The assessment determined that during the course of the operation, the partner force engaged several individuals with small arms fire after these individuals maneuvred against their position from a point of concealment. The assessment concluded that five individuals were killed and one was wounded as a result of partner force fire. While on-site sensitive exploitation was not posssible, post-operation classified reporting and detainee questioning suggest that individuals killed and wounded in the raid were al-Shabaab fighters.
"In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. forces, in an advise-and-assist capacity, partnered in a Somali-led operation to disrupt and degrade al-Shabaab's terrorist network near Bulcida, Somalia, May 9, 2018, as previously released. Following reports alleging civilian casualties resulting from this operation, U.S. Africa Command performed a thorough review and determined the allegations of civilian casualties to be not credible. As with any allegation of civilian casualties, U.S. Africa Command reviewed all available relevant information concerning the incident."
Original strike reports
"U.S. forces, in an advise-and-assist capacity, partnered in a Somali-led operation to disrupt and degrade al-Shabaab's terrorist network near Bulcida, Somalia, May 9."