Friday April 5, 2019
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
FILE - In this March 7, 2019 file photo, U.S. Africa Command Commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. U.S. Africa Command says new information shows a woman and a child were killed in a U.S. airstrike that was targeting al-Shabab insurgents in Somalia last year. The information released Friday contradicts military insistence last month no civilians had been killed in Somalia strikes since 2017, despite a human rights group’s claims casualties had occurred. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP) — Just weeks after insisting that American airstrikes in Somalia
had killed no civilians, U.S. Africa Command said Friday that new
information reveals that a woman and a child died last April when a U.S.
strike targeted al-Shabab militants.
revelation comes on the heels of a report by Amnesty International that
charged last month that as many as two dozen civilians had been killed
or wounded in U.S. airstrikes in Somalia.Military
officials at the time rejected Amnesty International's conclusions. But
the report, combined with questions from Congress and a recent spike in
U.S. strikes in Somalia, prompted Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of
Africa Command, to order an in-depth review of the matter.
this week, that ongoing audit uncovered the April 2018 drone strike
near El Burr that killed four al-Shabab militants along with the woman
and the child in a vehicle.
Force Col. Chris Karns said information about their deaths was never
sent to Africa Command headquarters so commanders were unaware of them
until this week. He said that the reporting error is being addressed and
that commanders believe the two civilian deaths were an "isolated
situation" but the audit is continuing.
transparency, and accountability are fundamental to military
operations," Waldhauser said in a statement. "It is critically important
that people understand we adhere to exacting standards and when we fall
short, we acknowledge shortcomings and take appropriate action."
its report last month, Amnesty International said it analyzed satellite
imagery and other data and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of
five airstrikes, which were detailed in the report. The report concluded
there was "credible evidence" that the U.S. was responsible for four of
the airstrikes and that it's plausible the U.S. conducted the fifth
strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight were injured.
Africa Command at the time said it looked at the five strikes and
concluded there were no civilian casualties in four of them. In the
fifth case the command said there were no U.S. strikes in that area on
The April 2018 strike that officials said they learned about this week was not one of those detailed by Amnesty International.
to Karns, Waldhauser launched the audit soon after the Amnesty
International report came out in an effort to make sure the command was
doing everything possible to investigate potential civilian casualties.
He said Lt. Gen. James Vechery, a deputy commander at Africa Command, is
leading the audit team and received information about the new civilian
deaths on Tuesday, as the review was progressing.
an interview Friday, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, U.S. Africa
Command's director of operations, said the initial assessment of that
strike last year concluded there were only men from al-Shabab in the
vehicle that was struck.
said that later, information on a Somali website alleged there had been
civilian casualties. Military officials reviewed the strike and
determine it wasn't credible but later got more information that led
them to change their minds and determine that a woman and a child also
had gotten into the vehicle.
information, however, was never forwarded to Africa Command, Karns
said, and as a result Africa Command had insisted for a year that there
had been no civilian losses in the Somalia campaign.
said that new information was never passed along to Africa Command by a
lower level military unit. He wouldn't identify the unit but said
leaders are looking into why the information wasn't passed on.
"We don't believe it was intentional," he said, adding that he's confident this represents the only breakdown in communications.
added, however, that new information from outside sources could come in
and trigger reassessments of other strikes down the road.
do believe this is the first time actions resulted in civilians losing
their lives," Karns said. "It's regrettable and tragic, and we want to
apply lessons learned going forward."
He added that Congress and the government of Somalia were notified of the civilian deaths.
year there have been 28 U.S. airstrikes in Somalia, compared with 47 in
all of last year, and about 800 al-Shabab militants have been killed.
Al-Shabab is linked to al-Qaida and is the deadliest militant group in