US Forces in Somalia

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

The first known US airstrikes in Somalia as part of the so-called War on Terror took place in 2007 under President George W. Bush. However it was not until the Obama administration took office in 2009 that a significant US drone and airstrike campaign began.

Since then, several hundred declared and alleged US actions have taken place in Somalia involving drones, AC-130 gunships, attack helicopters, naval bombardments and cruise missile strikes – which between them according to local communities have killed scores of civilians.

The primary target of US actions has been the terror group al Shabaab – although actions have also focused on Al Qaeda in East Africa, and more recently on so-called Islamic State. Attacks are conducted by both US Special Operations Command under AFRICOM, and by the CIA.

While AFRICOM now declares almost all military airstrikes in Somalia it rarely reports ground actions, while the CIA neither confirms nor denies its own attacks. While earlier US strikes were focused around Mogadishu and in the country’s south, actions have now been reported in almost all parts of the fragile nation.

Despite more than a decade of airstrikes, AFRICOM claimed until March 2019 that its many actions had harmed no civilians – despite a significant number of well documented harm events.

Much of the information on US strikes in Somalia presented here was originally gathered over a nine year period by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. In mid 2019 Airwars took over monitoring from the Bureau, along with similar US air campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen.

Length of Campaign
Declared US actions in Somalia since 2007
Alleged civilian casualty incidents assessed

Airwars estimate of civilian deaths


Locally reported civilian deaths from declared or likely US Forces actions in Somalia for which the reporting was assessed by Airwars as Fair, or have been Confirmed by US Forces. These originate from 36 separate alleged incidents.

23–26 children likely killed
12–13 women likely killed
34–49 likely injured
88 named victims

US Forces estimate of civilian deaths


Confirmed civilian deaths, from US Forces actions in Somalia, originating from 5 separate incidents of civilian harm.

11 civilians confirmed injured
3,192–4,877 militants reportedly killed

Alleged deaths 235–398

Locally reported civilian deaths from US Forces actions in Somalia.

97 separate alleged incidents

Confirmed or fair
Confirmed: A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for civilian harm.
Fair: Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.

Civilian deaths for which the reporting was assessed by Airwars as Fair, or have been Confirmed by US Forces.

36 separate alleged incidents

Weak: Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.

Civilian deaths for which the reporting was assessed by Airwars as Weak.

24 separate alleged incidents

Contested: Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.

Civilian deaths for which the reporting is assessed by Airwars as Contested.

23 separate alleged incidents

Discounted: Those killed were combatants, or other parties most likely responsible.

Civilian deaths were Discounted by Airwars after assessment.

14 separate alleged incidents