Disputed Reports of Civilian Casualties After Joint U.S.-Somali Raid

U.S. and Somali forces have been accused of killing five civilians in a raid that resulted in the capture of three alleged al-Shabaab commanders in the remote village of Macalinka — 25 miles outside Mogadishu.
Both independent and pro-Shabaab media reported details that five farm workers were killed and that their bodies were transferred to a hospital in Mogadishu. Another person critically injured was taken to a Turkish-run hospital in the capital.
Local reports say the joint forces were deployed via helicopter in Macalinka to a banana farm, where they proceeded toward the location of the targets.
Somali member of parliament Mahad Dhoore described the operation in a grisly manner, stating, “They dropped in Macalinka area and went from house to house killing people.”
The Associated Press spoke with witnesses with similar expressions of incredulity:

“They were not armed nor were they al-Shabab members,” said Ibrahim Ahmed, who said he was a family member of one man killed…I don’t understand why a farm would make a target for a raid,” he added, pointing at one of the bloodied bodies that had been laid out on the ground outside a hospital in the capital, Mogadishu.

And via AFP:
“The Somali government must ask questions about this brutal raid on innocent farmers who were sleeping when they were killed,” said Shamey Yusuf, another elder. “
A spokesperson for Somalia’s security ministry Abdiaziz Ali Ibrahim “Xildhibaan” denied reports that there had been civilian casualties, stating, “As of now, there are no civilian casualties resulted in the operation.”
AFRICOM issued a statement stating it was looking into these allegations:
Last August, joint U.S.-Somali forces were blamed for the deaths of 10 innocent civilians, including children, during a raid in Bariire, which caused a local uproar and necessitated the Somali government to pay compensation to the victims’ families.

Locals talk to the media about the killings in Macalinka

In November 2017, SOCAFRICA — the Defense Department’s special operations branch for the continent — released results from a probe that claimed only enemy combatants were killed in the raid, but a detailed investigation from reporter Christina Goldbaum in the Daily Beast presented strong evidence to refute that report.
Adding to the lack of clarity, in December 2017, AFRICOM — the U.S. combatant command for Africa — requested the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) to conduct an additional investigation into the operation.
U.S. representative Beto O’Rourke questioned AFRICOM commander General Thomas Waldhauser this past March about the August 2017 raid in Bariire during a House Armed Service committee testimony. The back-and-forth is worth revisiting because General Waldhauser denied the casualty claims and said the secondary investigation by NCIS was not ready for release:

O’ROURKE:  There was a report this last summer about a raid in Somalia that was supported by the U.S. military as reported, and reported that 10 civilians, including three children, were killed there. The follow-up from the Pentagon was that you all were investigating — or that the Pentagon was investigating that attack.  Can you tell us a little bit about the repercussions of that? 

WALDHAUSER: I’m sure you’re referring to the incident in Bariire, where immediately upon — where our forces were not — were not involved in direct combat. But there were casualties there, and immediately it became very unclear, as it happens most — almost every time when there’s a strike in Somalia with regards to an [information operation] campaign from the enemy.  We did conduct an inquiry into that, and, you know, some of the issues that were brought up with children and women and that — and that just didn’t happen, right? I mean, just — the investigation, the facts just weren’t there.

We had received — there were several media articles on that particular topic, and I just decided at that point in time — so it’s kind of a dilemma.

 I mean, if you react to every item that shows up on social media, we would spend our entire day trying to hit back things that weren’t — weren’t true. But there were some — several media articles, and in this particular case, in order to demonstrate transparency, I just decided to have an investigation take place. And there is one ongoing right now by — by NCIS to do that.

So we just said we looked into it. The facts as — the facts as we have known don’t support some of the things that were out there. So let an — let an agency take care of it. But we’re confident that this — our case is going to be accurate, but if it’s not, we’ll take the appropriate action…

But the bottom line is the clan dynamics, the information campaign from Al-Shabaab in the social media, is something that is very, very difficult for us. And we have to be aware of it. We have to combat it all the time. Because — because they have an inordinate amount of just false information that they put out all the time as part of their strategy.

So, Waldhauser essentially labels recent civilian casualties as claims fabricated by al-Shabaab and highlights how  the terror groups is able to exploit clan relationships to advance its preferred narratives.

But it is insufficient for AFRICOM to call any negative portrayal of U.S. actions as simply “al-Shabaab propaganda.” In order to be perceived as a reliable communicator, AFRICOM has to maintain its credibility — which can only be achieved through accountability and transparency about its actions that go beyond cursory denials.

If there is al-Shabaab disinformation circulating in the Somali blogosphere, AFRICOM should provide evidence of the mis-reporting.

On Thursday, the Defense Department gave a lengthy press briefing and follow-on recommendations regarding the deadly ambush in Niger in which four U.S. military personnel were killed.
During this briefing, Waldhauser stated, “The accountability itself squarely rests on the shoulders of the Army and the United States Special Operations Command,” as part of a fairly long briefing in which his counterparts were called to explain the causes and shortfalls that led to the deaths of U.S. military personnel in Niger.
Is AFRICOM not able to give a similarly rigorous explanation for either the August 2017 incident or the most recent allegations?
Unfortunately, it may take the deaths of U.S. servicemembers rather than the deaths of Somali civilians to trigger more transparency.

Categories: al-Shabaab, Int'l Community in Somalia

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