Civilians also die under American bombs in Somalia
An American cargo plane in Somalia, in 2017. US Air Force
Text by: Romain Mielcarek Follow
Since 2017, the U.S. military has conducted hundreds of air strikes in Somalia. According to Washington, these have killed many jihadists. NGOs are concerned about civilian victims who are too often overlooked.
“ This individual was a key official in the al-Shabaab organization. He was violent, lawless and responsible for the deaths of many innocent people. Its neutralization makes Somalia and its neighborhood safer countries. It was with these words that General Stephen Townsend, head of the American command in Africa (Africom), welcomed the elimination of Yusuf Jiis during a precision bombing on April 2.
Particularly known for having carried out attacks against humanitarian organizations, this framework of the jihadist organization comes on top of dozens of shebabs killed by American strikes in recent years. Strikes that have steadily increased since US President Donald Trump declared Somalia a " hostile area of activity " in March 2017. From 47 shots in 2018, US aviation rose to 63 in 2019… and just 36 in the first three months of 2020.
" Empowering civilians to be heard "
Each time, Africom welcomes Islamist militants killed. American drones and planes allow, to believe the communication of the American army, a very high precision. But the NGOs doubt it. " They are quick to announce that they have killed terrorists ," said Abdullahi Hassan, a researcher with Amnesty International who covers Somalia. We investigated nine of these bombings only. And we found that 21 civilians were killed and 11 others injured. "
In two cases documented by Amnesty in February, everything suggests that the victims had nothing to do with al-Shabaab. On February 2, a strike on a house in Jilib, in the South, cost the life of an 18-year-old woman, wounding an old lady and two children in the process. Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar died of a blow received in the head. On that day, Africom announced that it had killed a terrorist, without touching any civilians.
On February 24, another Amnesty investigation called into question the results of a strike in the same area, in the village of Kumbareere. Rather than a terrorist, the NGO found the body of Mohamud Salah Mohamud, 53, a notable and a well-known businessman in the region. He grew bananas and managed the local office of the national telecom operator Hormuud.
This whole region is occupied by shebabs. Were any of them spotted near the places where these people were killed? Perhaps. It is the opacity of the shooting decisions that Amnesty questions. " These people, who have been victims, have no means of contacting the American army ," Abdullahi Hassan pleads to RFI. We call on Africom and the Somali government to give them the means to be heard, to obtain justice and reparations. "
On the American side, we ensure that we do our utmost to preserve civilian populations. " We have procedures in place to ensure the security and protection of local populations," we told Africom. It is one of our priorities. These procedures, combined with precision strike capabilities, safeguard civilians and infrastructure. "
The American army recognizes its responsibility only in the death of two civilians, during an April 2018 shooting. It assures that the files presented by the NGOs are taken into account, but does not reach the same conclusions: " After an aerial bombardment, the command conducts additional analyzes, to ensure that military objectives have been achieved and that there have been no civilian casualties. Africom takes into account all available sources of information. Our analyzes are often based on intelligence methods that are not available to non-military organizations. "
What progress on the ground?
These large bombing campaigns are, according to Africom, the result of regular military efforts by the Somali army and its international allies in the areas occupied by the Shebabs. The latter suffered blows, said Stig Jarle Hansen, professor at the University of Life Sciences in Norway (NMBU). The majority of their veterans of the wars in Afghanistan would have died, even if they were quickly replaced. " They are less ideologized, but have as many means ", summarizes this specialist.
But for Stig Jarle Hansen, these numerous bombings did not have a decisive impact on the war in Somalia: “ The drones did not tip the balance. They attract a lot of attention but have had no strategic effects. It scares Shebab officials and sometimes deters certain practices, such as holding sharia courts. But the shebabs remain very strong on the ground and the Somali army does not seem to me ready to durably control the territory. "
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