‘Zero Casualties’ No More: US AFRICOM Admits to Killing Civilians in Somalia

Sgt. Reuben Hottel, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, reacts to a near ambush by opposition forces July 26 near Alicedale, South Africa during Shared Accord 13. Shared Accord is a biennial training exercise which promotes regional relationships, increases capacity, trains U.S. and South African forces, and furthers cross-training and interoperability.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) admitted on Friday that a 2018 airstrike in Somalia killed two civilians, claiming a clerical error previously obscured it. However, it’s no mere error of reporting: AFRICOM’s very method for analyzing airstrike victims omits the possibility they could be civilians.

“During a commander-directed review of airstrikes conducted in Somalia since 2017, US Africa Command learned an April 1, 2018, airstrike killed two civilians,” says a Friday statement by AFRICOM, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. The statement notes that the onus for the review came from “a recent increase in airstrikes and continued interest by Amnesty International and Congress on civilian casualties.”

“Consequently, on April 2, 2018, US Africa Command stated in a press release based on an initial post-strike intelligence review the strike killed five al-Shabaab terrorists, and that the command assessed ‘no civilians were killed in this airstrike,'” the statement continues. “Unaware of the subsequent assessment and findings, senior leaders later stated during congressional testimony and media engagements that US forces caused zero civilian casualties in Africa.”

However, the command is careful to state it believes the killings “to be an isolated occurrence.”