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.

13years6months6days
Length of Campaign
228
Declared US actions in Somalia since 2007
75
Alleged civilian casualty incidents assessed

Airwars estimate of civilian deaths

69–142

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 30 separate alleged incidents.

18–21 children likely killed
10–11 women likely killed
34–50 likely injured
71 named victims

US Forces estimate of civilian deaths

4

Confirmed civilian deaths, from US Forces actions in Somalia, originating from 2 separate incidents of civilian harm.

3 civilians confirmed injured
1,807–2,422 militants reportedly killed

Alleged deaths 180–316

Locally reported civilian deaths from US Forces actions in Somalia.

75 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.
69–142

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

30 separate alleged incidents

Weak
Weak: Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
60–69

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

18 separate alleged incidents

Contested
Contested: Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
45–91

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

16 separate alleged incidents

Discounted
Discounted: Those killed were combatants, or other parties most likely responsible.
6–14

Civilian deaths were Discounted by Airwars after assessment.

11 separate alleged incidents

Reported civilian deaths from US Forces strikes in Somalia

Due to large variations in the quality of reporting, Airwars provisionally grades allegations of civilian harm using a standardised methodology across all belligerents and conflicts. The five categories are explained in full on our Methodology page. Individual events are recorded in the Civilian Casualties pages.

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Credit: Airwars Graphic
Source: Airwars

Militant deaths per year in Somalia

Since 2007, the United States has targeted alleged fighters from three main terror networks operating in Somalia: Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and ISIS. While declared US actions are often accompanied by an official estimate of militants killed, local reporting may indicate differing claims, resulting in a fatality range.

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Declared and alleged US actions in Somalia

Most US actions in Somalia are carried out by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and are publicly declared by press release. However US military ground operations are not routinely reported – and CIA strikes are officially neither confirmed nor denied. In addition, there are some actions in Somalia where the belligerent is presently contested (eg possibly by the US or AMISOM), or unknown.

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