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New Report: Somalians Killed in US Attack Were Civilian Farmers

US military in Somalia
U.S. Marine Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commanding general, U.S. Africa Command, speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto, at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu, Somalia Nov. 27, 2018. During his visit to Mogadishu, Waldhauser also met with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to discuss development, security and stability in Somalia. (Photo: U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nick Scott)

“This is just one of many cases of the U.S. military wantonly tarnishing large parts of the Somali population with the ‘terrorist’ label.”

A new report from Amnesty International finds that three Somalian men killed in a U.S. airstrike in March were civilian farmers with no connections to terrorist groups, despite claims from the U.S. military’s African Command (AFRICOM) that the men were members of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. Amnesty also found that AFRICOM failed to investigate the matter after a Foreign Policy journalist provided evidence that at least one of the slain man was a civilian.

“It’s bad enough that the U.S. Africa Command appears not to know who its air strikes are actually killing and maiming in its secretive war in Somalia. But it’s reprehensible that AFRICOM offers no way for those affected to contact it and has failed to reach out to the families of victims after its version of events was called into question in this case,” said Abdullahi Hassan, Amnesty International’s Somalia Researcher.

Critics argue the case represents a disregard for human life and reckless use of the word terrorist, as AFRICOM has provided no evidence of its claim. Amnesty interviewed 11 people about the incident, including witnesses, family members, and a company where one of them worked. Everyone they spoke to was “adamant that none of the men was a member of Al-Shabaab,” and Amnesty notes the group did not get involved with the slain farmer’s burials, which the group usually does when its own members are killed.

“This is just one of many cases of the U.S. military wantonly tarnishing large parts of the Somali population with the ‘terrorist’ label,” said Hassan. “No thought is given to the civilian victims or the plight of their grieving families left behind.” Amnesty writes that the three men leave behind 19 children between them.

Increased US Airstrikes in Somalia

President Trump signed an executive order in early 2017 declaring south Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” since then AFRICOM has carried out at least 131 strikes. The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain wrote on Tuesday that one of the most overlooked aspects of the Trump era has been the increase in civilian deaths in Somalia and other wars abroad.

Hussain writes that while the Pentagon has always downplayed civilian deaths in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, with independent organizations finding numbers vastly higher, the Trump administration has overseen a particularly sharp uptake in non-combatant casualties. According to the Watchdog group Airwars, civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria increased more than 200 percent between 2016 and 2017.

Hussain points to the recent massacre of 40 pine nut farmers in Afghanistan and the fact that U.S.-allied forces have killed more Afghani civilians in 2019 than the Taliban as evidence of the Trump administration’s unrestrained bloodletting. Trump has loosened rules of engagement, defended war criminals and punished prosecutors investigating them.

“Does this matter? Do the extremely violent deaths of innocent people — wedding guests and farmers in distant countries — factor into the moral calculus we use to judge Trump as being fit or unfit for office? The American public seems only dimly interested in the ramped-up killings that have taken place on his watch,” writes Hussain. “He and his administration are responsible for deaths on a scale that screams at us to take notice.”

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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