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US air strike kills ‘more than 100’ in Somalia

The US has confirmed that it killed 100 Al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia yesterday, a press release by the US Africa Command said.

In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, the US forces conducted an air strike against an Al-Shabaab camp yesterday, at 10:30am local time. The locations of the target were “125 miles northwest” of the capital, Mogadishu.

“US forces will continue to use all authorised and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats,” US Africa Command statement said. Counter-terrorism operations in Somalia are conducted alongside African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and “Somalia National Security Forces (SNSF)”, the US Africa Command continued.

The US African Command did not mention whether there were any civilian casualties involved. It is unclear whether an armed drone or a military aircraft was used for the attack, strengthening views that the US’ targeted killing programme is shrouded in secrecy and lack of transparency.

“While the Pentagon insists that no civilians are being killed in these strikes, we know that without much more information from the ground, those claims should be treated with real scepticism,” Chris Cole, director of Drone Wars UK, said.

Read: US drone strike in southern Somalia

Former US president Barack Obama previously warned high risk counter-terrorism operations should be used sparingly and only after internal review. Trump has sidestepped that rule and provided the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US Military broader powers in Somalia, considering parts of the country “areas of activity hostilities” or temporary battlefields.

“This latest strike in Somalia comes in the context of a very significant uptick in lethal strikes in Somalia and Yemen this year under Trump. Concerns about these strikes have been heightened by reports that Trump has loosened rules on strikes overseas, reducing safeguards designed to protect civilians. These changes come with increased secrecy: The rules have not been disclosed,” Alex Moorehead, international legal expert at Columbia Law, said.

“Hard questions need to be asked of the US military in the wake of the new secret rules, increased strikes, casualties on such a scale, and recent reports raising serious questions about how the US military records civilian casualties,” Moorehead continued.

“The US military should explain clearly what measures it is taking to protect civilians, to ensure that all those killed were indeed lawfully targeted, and the new rules must be disclosed.”

Read: US air strikes kill ‘several’ in Somalia

The US has some 500 personnel stationed in Somalia, including soldiers that fight alongside Somalia’s forces. US drones and manned aircrafts are stationed in Djibouti, north Somalia, where AFRICOM coordinates its mission across the country.

On 25 August, ten civilians were reported killed in a US-Somalia counter-terrorism raid in Bariire, southern Somalia. The villagers ran to hide under banana trees as they were shot dead by US-Somali forces. Al-Shabaab fighters, who were the target of the raid, were not at the attacked village.

Unidentified warplanes killed Daesh fighters in north-eastern Somalia back in August, but the US did not claim responsibility.

On the ground in Somalia, the AMISOM announced that it will withdraw some 1,000 troops by the end of the year. With Somalia’s most deadline attack killing some 350 people last month, it is unclear why the UN-backed mission is rescinding its footprint.

Soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia [AMISOM Public Information/Flickr]

The British government has deployed a special regiment of 85 military personnel to train and work with the African Union Mission in Somalia. It is unclear whether the UK is complying with US targeted drone or air strikes in Somalia.

Two British nationals who had their citizenship stripped, Bilal Al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, were killed in separate US drone strikes in Somalia in 2012. It is unclear if the UK government provided any location intelligence, as Al-Berjawi was killed after making a phone call to his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son. The UK’s drone policy is shrouded in secrecy without a clear framework on targeting beyond war theatres.

“These new policies by the Trump administration should make EU partners more caution when it comes to sharing intelligence with the US, as this can be used for targeted killings.  These kinds of operations could also strengthen the precedent of the use of lethal force outside areas of armed conflict, previously set by the Obama administration that other States can now follow, without being challenged. This is a serious concern for civil society organisations in the EU and US,” Wim Zwijnenburg, Humanitarian Disarmament Project Leader for Dutch peace organisation PAX who also leads the European Forum on Armed Drones, said.

“The US seems to have dropped the requirement that groups and/or individuals should pose a continuing, immanent threat to the US. This paves the way for more lethal strikes, be they with manned aircraft, drones or commando raids, in areas outside active hostilities, with little to no transparency, oversight and accountability,” Zwijnenburg continued.

To strengthen transparency and accountability mechanisms, it is important for the US to release all data on the strike, assessments of possible civilian casualties and clarify the legal policy frameworks around these strikes.

Al-Shabaab seeks to dislodge the Somali government and implement a strict version of Islamic law across Somalia. In 2012, the group pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, which attracted counterterrorism use of force.

The US has killed some 510 Somalis and injured 54 since 2007, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an organisation which tracks US strikes across the world.

Read: 81 Al-Shabaab fighters killed in Jilib, Somalia