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Yesterday General Waldhauser said US #airstrikes won't stop al Shabab in #Somalia. I spent five weeks on the ground investigating the impact of the strikes. Here's what I found: thenation.com/article/somali…
Halimo Mohamed Abdi said the blast broke both her hips, left shrapnel embedded in her thigh, and caused terrible burns that cost her both breasts.Before she lost consciousness, she told me, she saw three boys—9, 10, and 16—die in the explosion about 30 miles outside #Mogadishu.
Abdi, like many Somali herders, doesn’t follow the Western calendar, so she’s unsure of the exact date of the strike. But she says it was about two weeks before Eid al-Fitr, which began on the evening of June 14 last year.
On June 1, #AFRICOM issued a press release stating that on May 31, a strike had been conducted 30 miles southwest of Mogadishu, killing 12 “terrorists.”
But the AFRICOM statement only raised more questions: Did the American command count the three boys killed as terrorists? Why was Abdi’s farm targeted? Was this even the attack she described?
“It’s hard to know what standards and processes the Trump administration, since taking office in 2017, has been applying to counterterrorism operations in places like Somalia,"@jgeltzer the senior director for counterterrorism at the NSC from 2015 to 2017 told me.
“We don’t know what the strategy is,” said @RepAdamSmith on #US in #Somalia. “Because we required the administration to lay out its long-term strategy… but they have not yet done so, as required by law.”
My investigation identified strikes that went unreported until they were raised with #AFRICOM, but also others that AFRICOM could not confirm—which suggests that another #US agency may also be launching air attacks in the region.
The investigation also tracked down evidence that AFRICOM’s claim of zero civilian casualties is almost certainly incorrect. And it found that the U@ lacks a clear definition of “terrorist"...
with neither AFRICOM, the Pentagon, nor the National Security Council willing to clarify the policies that underpin these strikes.
This lack of transparency has produced an almost total sense of confusion over what the United States is doing with its air attacks in Somalia.
Three previously unreported strikes came to light as I investigated the story of an attack relayed by Khadija Hassan Ali, a mother of three from Marka, a city about 60 miles south of Mogadishu.
Ali said that her husband, Abdullahi Sheikh Hassan, died in late July from what she believes was a heart attack after nighttime strikes hit her village amid fighting between Al Shabab and government-led militias.
AFRICOM did not publicly announce any strikes in July, but a document leaked to me by an international human-rights organization indicated an attack on July 25 in Qalimow, a village to the north of Mogadishu and about 95 miles from Ali’s home.
After weeks of pressing, AFRICOM said the strike happened 30 miles north of Kismayo, Somalia’s southern port city, which is hundreds of miles from both Qalimow and Marka.
This information only makes the situation more puzzling: When asked to avow a strike that a major international organization noted on July 25, AFRICOM admitted a strike in an entirely different location on July 23, and neither of these strikes match Ali’s recollections.
In other words, there may have been three different strikes—one acknowledged by AFRICOM, one noted by the international organization, and one recalled by Ali—all around the same time, none of which were previously made public, and only one of which came to light via RTQ.
Aside from the mystery surrounding such strikes, there’s another critical area where transparency has decreased: civilian injuries and deaths. AFRICOM maintains that its air strikes have not caused a single civilian casualty in Somalia.
I asked retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, who served as the head of Special Operations Command Africa from April 2015 to June 2017, if he thought that civilian casualties could have gone unrecorded.
He said that he did, but in a follow-up message, he clarified: “There is a possibility. But I also know there are established procedures to avoid civilian casualties.”
In November, @attackerman reported, based on conversations with former counterterrorism officials and experts, that the review process after a strike involves planes making a second pass over the area hit to determine the extent of the damage: thedailybeast.com/trump-ramped-u…
What happens if civilian casualties are suspected is also muddy. Within AFRICOM, a Civilian Casualty Allegation Team is designated to investigate, and it works with other agencies, NGOs, and governments, as well as media reports, to assess the claims.
However, two former Somali security officials—including the former head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency—as well as a Somali legal expert and activist said the Somali government does not have the capacity to help investigate these strikes.
.@SagalBihi told me that she had raised the issue of civilian casualties with the Ministry of Defense in 2017 and was told that the military “investigates as needed” into any such allegations.
Civilian casualties will always exist,” Bihi said, “because we are talking about an enemy that really takes ‘human shield’ to the next level.”
.@SagalBihi also emphasized,"However al Shabab takes humans as a shield but, still it's our responsibility to find a way to protect them."
.@FelixHorne1 told me in an email that @hrw “is concerned about ongoing allegations of civilian casualties caused by US drone strikes in the Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle regions, where much of the fight against Al Shabab is taking place.”
Further, two high-level former Somali security advisers say civilian casualties are all the more likely because the United States doesn’t have the ability to collect solid information on the ground. “There’s not enough intelligence to justify kinetic strikes,” said one.
“There are very few people in the Pentagon that can even explain to you what is going on in East Africa off the top of their head,” General Bolduc admitted. “They have to have a scheduled meeting so they can read ahead and sound intelligent about it.”
I asked AFRICOM, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the National Security Council about their methods for determining whether the people killed in air strikes were members of Al Shabab, as well as the United States’ intelligence capabilities in Somalia. None responded to such questions.
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