In the latest quarterly civilian casualty assessment report ending Dec. 31, 2020, U.S. Africa Command received no new reports of civilian casualties and closed out two of three open cases. This is the fourth quarterly civilian casualty assessment report since U.S. Africa Command began releasing reports in April 2020 as part of its commitment to increased transparency and accountability.
During the quarter, the command completed two assessments of reports of civilian casualties, which were reported as open in the last report.
One assessment into reports of civilian casualties remains open and under review from the reporting period that ended on Dec. 31.
However, the command received two reports of civilian casualties since this report’s closeout. These new reports stem from two airstrikes conducted on Jan.1, 2021 and Jan. 19, 2021 respectively. The two new reports are currently being assessed and will be addressed in a future quarterly report. They are listed as open as well.
In January, the command completed a presidential directive to reposition U.S. forces from Somalia to other areas within East Africa.
“U.S. Africa Command remains committed to continuing security cooperation with Somali and AMISOM partners as well as joint efforts to counter the al-Qaeda aligned terrorist group al-Shabaab,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command.
As operational considerations allow, U.S. Africa Command remains committed to transparency about engagements in Somalia and in areas where U.S. forces serve. U.S. Africa Command conducts airstrikes and engagements with Somali forces to maintain pressure on al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization that remains a threat to Somalia, East Africa, and U.S. interests and security.
“Even as we maintain pressure on al-Shabaab’s terrorist network, we continue to minimize risk to civilians during our operations,” said Townsend. “Transparency, abiding by the rule of law, and promoting security and stability are foundational to how we operate. Applying continued pressure on al-Shabaab is important for the security of Somalia, East Africa, and America.”
According to Somali Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier Gen. Odawa Yusuf Raage, U.S. airstrikes have been critical in helping his country disrupt, degrade, and isolate the al-Shabaab terror group.
“The Somali National Army fully supports U.S. Africa Command’s efforts to degrade al-Shabaab through kinetic air strikes,” Raage said during a recent meeting with U.S. officials. “These strikes are a key part in our fight against an enemy that has shown no hesitation in terrorizing innocent Somali citizens through repression, extortion, and murder. U.S. Africa Command airstrikes and assistance help make Somalia safer and more secure.”
U.S. Africa Command’s assessment of reports of civilian casualties occasionally differ from other organizations, including Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) for a number of reasons. The command’s information is based on reliable and layered intelligence sources and classified operational reporting which are not available to the public. This can contribute to perceived discrepancies between the command’s results and those of others.
Consistent with the Department of Defense Law of War Manual, “civilian” and “combatant” are defined as follows:
Civilian: Persons who are not combatants (members of military/security forces or members of either a declared hostile force or an organized armed group of a party to an armed conflict). Civilians may lose their protection against attacks if demonstrating hostile intent, engaging in a hostile act, or for such time as they take direct part in hostilities; but they retain or regain such protection when they cease said conduct, or if they become wounded, sick, detained, or surrender, and thereby are unable to continue said conduct. All personnel in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility are protected civilians, unless they are identified as legitimate military targets.
Combatant: Persons directly participating in an armed conflict, or persons whose hostile actions have purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the U.S. Individuals who are formally or functionally part of a non-State armed group that is engaged in hostilities may be made the object of attack because they likewise share in their group’s hostile intent.
This report reflects results of civilian casualty assessments previously reported as open that are now closed or remain under assessment and reports of possible civilian casualties the command received during the reporting period. Any new intelligence or information relating to a current or closed case will be reviewed to determine if the new information alters the assessment, and will be included in the following quarterly civilian casualty report.
Note: Where reports of civilian casualties are determined to be unsubstantiated, it means there was insufficient information to validate or substantiate the reports. When new information is received, a report of civilian casualties can be reassessed. Until that occurs, the assessment is considered complete.