A noticeable decline in American use of drone strikes to counter al-Shabaab in Somalia has led to fewer reports of civilian casualties in the country, a report shows.
The United States of America Command (AFRICOM), covering the period to March 31, states that the command has not received a single report for over a year and after the last strike conducted on February 22 of this year .
“Recent quarterly civilian casualty assessment report for the period ended March 31, 2022, US Africa Command received no new civilian casualty reports and no outstanding reports from previous quarters were transmitted. No assessments are currently open or under review,” the command said in a statement.
The February 22 airstrike was a counterattack on insurgents after they attacked partner forces in a remote location near Duduble Africom said in a statement.
It was also the second attack during President Joe Biden’s administration in the coming months after the first in July last year, which took place near Galkayo in Somalia.
During Biden’s tenure since taking office in January last year, new limits have been placed on drone strikes outside of active war zones, requiring drone strikes to be given direct authority by the White House.
During the During President Donald Trump’s administration, field commanders were free to carry drone strikes without direct approval from the White House.
The United States uses airstrikes to target partner troops s deployed to Somalia on a self-defense basis to demote and eliminate al-Shabaab elements in the US country.
The targeted attacks have resulted in the killing of key al-Shabaab leaders, such as in February 2020, when an airstrike killed Bashir Mohamed Qorgab, a leader in charge of one of the militia’s bases and also involved in operations against Kenya.
In March this year, the Somali government announced that that a joint operation by the Somali National Army and the US military killed more than 200 al-Shabaab fighters in drone strikes on the Hareri Guybadle settlement some 300 kilometers north of Mogadishu.
However, the airstrikes did not remain free Criticism from some Somalis who claim that some acted indiscriminately and killed innocent people.
In response to these allegations, Africom launched d he release of quarterly reports assessing civilian casualties after each airstrike conducted in Somalia.
The command reported that on February 17, 2020, two civilians died after a drone strike on the m ilitia, another three in April 2020 and another three in January last year.
“With every airstrike, we conduct a thorough pre-attack assessment to reduce the likelihood of civilian damage. Unfortunately, our Jan. 1 airstrike, designed to protect repositioning US troops and accurately hit the intended target, also likely injured three nearby civilians,” Gen. Townsend said after the assessment report was released.
On January 27, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a memorandum directing the Undersecretary of Defense Policy to submit a civilian mitigation and response plan by April 27 after reports that the country used air warfare against the Islamic State in Syria in 2018 may have resulted in the indiscriminate killing of civilians.
The action plan is expected to have an impact on Africom’s behavior in Somalia. Africom Commander General Stephen Townsend said the protection of innocent civilians remains an essential part of the command’s operations as it promotes a safer and more stable Africa.
“We have a moral obligation to ensure that our processes do everything possible to mitigate civilian harm,” he said.
I In the past, human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized the findings of Africom’s investigations, claiming that they are insufficient and lacking in any accountability.