Amnesty International Accuses US of War Crimes in Somalia

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Amnesty International is accusing the United States of covering up civilian casualties in its secretive air war in Somalia targeting the militant group al-Shabab. The U.S. has carried out over a hundred strikes in Somalia since 2017 as part of a military campaign involving Reaper drones and manned aircraft. For years the Pentagon has claimed no civilians were being killed in the airstrikes, but the new Amnesty report found that at least 14 civilians were killed, and eight more injured, in just five of those airstrikes. The overall civilian death toll is likely to be far higher. Amnesty says the airstrikes could amount to violations of international humanitarian law and even constitute war crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Africa Command is disputing the new Amnesty report, saying in a statement, “Our assessments found that no AFRICOM airstrike resulted in any civilian casualty or injury.” The New York Times reports Defense Department data shows about 550 people have been killed in U.S. airstrikes in Somalia since the start of 2018, but the Pentagon has claimed only militants died in the strikes.

We go now to Washington, where we’re joined by Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser on arms and military operations. He helped write the new report, titled “The Hidden US War in Somalia.”

Brian Castner, lay out what you found.

BRIAN CASTNER: Yes, thank you for having me.

So, we found, as you point out, that in five of the strikes, of the 110 that AFRICOM is claiming — we found 14 civilians killed and eight injured. And we did this through a variety of interviews, satellite imagery analysis, corroborating the information through a variety of open-source investigation techniques, speaking to doctors, etc.

And in 2017 — or, I should say, from 2017, the AFRICOM did a report to Congress that they killed zero, as the official number. In 2018, they said that was true for that year, as well — 110 strikes, 800 terrorists killed, zero civilians….

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