U.S. Africa Command Civilian Casualty Assessment Quarterly Report; 1st Quarter, 2021
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.
U.S. Africa Command Civilian Casualty Assessment Quarterly Report; 1st Quarter, 2021
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.”
Discrepancies between U.S. Africa Command civilian casualty assessments and NGO Reports
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.
Definition of “civilian” and “combatant”
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.
U.S. Africa Command Civilian Casualty Assessment Quarterly Report Summary of Results
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.
- (Unsubstantiated) Between March 10, 2020, and April 1, 2020, U.S. Africa Command received multiple reports from various sources stating between four (4) and ten (10) civilians were killed as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Janaale, Somalia that occurred on March 10, 2020. On May 8, 2020, U.S. Africa Command closed this report as unsubstantiated. Subsequently, U.S. Africa Command received a new report of this incident from a NGO on May 15, 2020, claiming the airstrike killed six (6) civilians who were in a taxi, traveling in the direction of Mogadishu. On June 17, 2020, U.S. Africa Command received another report of this incident from an online media source, with content mirroring the NGO report from May 15, 2020. On July 28 and 30, 2020, U.S. Africa Command received six (6) additional reports of this incident via the U.S. Africa Command Civilian Casualty reporting website (https://www.africom.mil/civilian-casualty-reporting), also claiming the airstrike killed six (6) civilians. As a result of the new reports made between May 15 and July 30, 2020, U.S. Africa Command reopened its assessment. The assessment concluded that the U.S. airstrike that occurred March 10, 2020 in the vicinity of Janaale, Somalia targeted a vehicle containing five (5) al-Shabaab members after the vehicle departed an al-Shabaab compound. The airstrike occurred in open terrain and the effects of the strike were limited to the vehicle. Contrary to some reports, the vehicle was not traveling in the direction of Mogadishu. The source of the initial March 10, 2020 report is a known al-Shabaab propaganda outlet and their report contained a recirculated photograph taken in 2019, before the airstrike occurred. This photograph appears to have been recycled from a previous report of civilian casualties. Forensic analysis indicated that other photographs utilized by the al-Shabaab propaganda outlet were deliberately manipulated. U.S. Africa Command's first and second assessments of these reports of civilian casualties determined that the reports of civilian casualties occurred as a result of the U.S. airstrike on March 10, 2020 are unsubstantiated.
- (Unsubstantiated) On Sept. 21, 2020, U.S. Africa Command received one (1) report from an online media source stating eight (8) civilians were killed as a result of a joint Somali and U.S. military operation in the vicinity of Tortorrow, Somalia on Sept. 21, 2020. After review, the report was assessed as unsubstantiated. U.S. forces were not directly involved in this operation and no U.S. military strike took place at the time and place reported. Partner force reporting and sensitive intelligence confirmed that no civilians were killed in the operation. The source of the report is a known al-Shabaab propaganda outlet that falsely stated that the partner force destroyed a mosque during the operation. U.S. Africa Command performed a careful assessment of the area after the operation and confirmed that a mosque was not destroyed in the operation.
- Feb. 28, 2020, U.S. Africa Command received three (3) reports from an online media source and social media accounts claiming two (2) civilians were injured as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow, Somalia, on Feb. 28, 2020. U.S. Africa Command’s assessment of these reports is ongoing.
Open incidents outside the reporting period
- Jan. 2, 2021, U.S. Africa Command received one (1) report from an online media source claiming three (3) civilians were injured as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow, Somalia, on Jan. 1, 2021. U.S. Africa Command’s assessment of this report is ongoing.
- Jan. 19, 2021, U.S. Africa Command received one (1) report from an online media source claiming one (1) civilian was killed as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Jamaame, Somalia, on Jan. 19, 2021. U.S. Africa Command’s assessment of this report is ongoing.