AFRICOM Review Confirms Civilians Killed in 2019 Somalia Airstrike

A U.S. strike on al-Shabab militants in February 2019 killed two civilians in addition to the intended targets, according to a new review of all U.S. Africa Command strikes on violent extremist organizations in two theaters.

The command is now providing quarterly reports on allegations of civilian casualties in an effort to increase the transparency of its operations in Libya and Somalia. The first review, released April 27, focused on 91 airstrikes in the two countries between Feb. 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020. During that period, AFRICOM received 70 allegations about 27 potential civilian casualty incidents, totaling 90 possible civilians killed.

As of the end of March, 20 alleged incidents are closed, one is under review, and one has been substantiated.

“It is important that our partners and the public understand our commitment to minimizing collateral damage while conducting military operations,” AFRICOM boss Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a release. “Where we come up short, we will admit it openly.”

The substantiated claim centers on a Feb. 23, 2019, strike on two al-Shabab militants in the vicinity of Kunyo Barrow. A strike killed the two combatants, and either the “effects of U.S. munitions or secondary explosions caused by explosives stored by al-Shabab at the location of the strike” killed two civilians and injured three more.

“While we follow very precise and rigorous standards, in instances where we fail to meet our expectations, we will admit the mistake,” Townsend said in the release. “We have the highest respect for our Somali friends and we are deeply sorry this occurred.”

The day after the strike, the command received allegations from online media sources claiming the civilians were killed, and then another follow-on allegation in January 2020 from a non-government organization. “After thorough review, several of the allegations were assessed to be substantiated,” AFRICOM said.

It is the second time AFRICOM has admitted civilian casualties in Somalia, the other being an April 1, 2018 airstrike near the village of El Buur that killed two civilians.