U.S. Airstrikes in Somalia Spark Controversy
On Monday, April 8, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire visited Washington to discuss the American use of force against terrorist groups in his home country of Somalia. The meetings, called after two civilians were killed in a U.S. airstrike on April 1, were held at the World Bank Headquarters. Senior officials from the State Department, Treasury Department, and the United States’ intelligence community were reported in attendance, according to the Washington Examiner.
The United States has consistently maintained that no civilian casualties had occurred in these years of directed attacks. After the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) reported that it accidentally killed the two civilians -a woman and a child- in the April 1 airstrike, the military claimed that their deaths had not been “properly reported” until now, according to Vox.
“I wouldn’t characterize that we’re at war [in Somalia],” General Thomas David Waldhauser, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, told Congress in March 2018, according to Amnesty International. “It’s specifically designed for us not to own that.”
The military further denied assertions that more civilian casualties have occurred, despite the fact that Trump’s administration is on pace for triple its usual rate of airstrikes in Somalia this year. There have been almost as many insurgents killed by late March of this year as were killed in all of 2018.
The military launched at least 81 airstrikes between 2017 and 2018, and is currently on target for at least 140 more in 2019 at the current pace.
Since the beginning of Somalia’s violent conflict almost thirty years ago, the United States has been hesitant to admit that it is at war in the war-torn country. Al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization, has wreaked havoc on the country since the late 90’s. It is comprised of roughly 7,000 to 9,000 fighters with two main goals: control all of Somalia and “liberate” Muslims in the region from so-called apostate rule, according to Vox. The United States, which has a particular interest in targeting terrorist groups and protecting nearby allies, like Kenya, from danger, has been conducting regular airstrikes on the region.
Concerning civilian casualties, Marine Major General Gregg Olson, the director of regional operations, said his command’s review continues and “should we find additional [information], we’ll be transparent about that,” said Vox.
Still, a young mother talked of losing her husband in a U.S. drone strike to Amnesty International, describing her life in a tiny settlement between two Al-Shabaab strongholds after fleeing clashes in Mogadishu. A well digger lost his relatives while driving. A three-year-old girl lost her father and sister in an explosion, and now cannot walk without assistance. Amnesty International claims that the actions of the United States have resulted in the deaths of least 21 innocent people in the past year. In this context, Khaire’s visit could not have been at a more desperate hour for Somalia.
In 1991, after the fall of dictator Siad Barre, Somalia’s economy and government collapsed, with rival clans and warlords quickly taking over. As Western media outlets presented photos of starving Somali children, former President George H.W. Bush ordered Marines to distribute aid and avert famine. Soon after Black Hawk Down, former President Bill Clinton ordered the troops’ return along with the rest of the UN peacekeeping taskforce, leaving Somalia to defend itself, according to the Washington Examiner.
In the absence of a stabilizing force, corruption rooted its way into what little government remained, where it sits to this day. Even Khaire himself, who is in his third year as prime minister and a previous refugee in Norway, is not immune from scrutiny. Current President Mohamed Abdullahi, who was selected fraudulently by parliament, handed him the appointment.