US Continues Airstrikes in Somalia Amidst Coronavirus
Updated: 6 days ago
Author: Olivia Branan
The United States has conducted dozens of airstrikes in Somalia over the past few months targeting the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group al-Shabaab. Since January, the U.S. has conducted 39 airstrikes in Somalia, targeting the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group al-Shabaab, according to the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). As strikes escalate, AFRICOM officers are being held accountable for underreported civilian casualties.
By obtaining open-source information on the airstrikes, several journalists created Airwars, a searchable database of civilian casualties in recent conflicts, including U.S. airstrikes in Somalia. The website identified 61 events in which civilians were allegedly harmed, 31 of which have been confirmed by AFRICOM. This data suggests between 71 and 139 civilian deaths, as opposed to AFRICOM’s original count of two.
Pressured by Airwars’ data and evidence from Amnesty International, the U.S. government addressed the allegations. In its first quarterly report on April 27, AFRICOM analyzed 70 civilian casualty allegations between February of 2019 and March 2020.
The spread of COVID-19 has altered the situation in Somalia. Although some military exercises have been canceled, airstrikes have yet to slow down. Coronavirus cases in Somalia are on the rise, and a significant number of infected people with no travel abroad suggests local transmission of the disease.
Since 2017, some 450,000 civilians have been displaced in areas of U.S. air operations, and over two million reside in settlement camps due to decades of violence in Somalia. The pandemic is putting Somalia’s millions of internally displaced people (IDPs) at high risk, as settlement camps are often breeding grounds for the virus. According to an April 20 report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the nation’s 2.6 million IDPs are currently living in 2,000 settlements, many with “limited access to health and water.”
On April 3, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire, stating that “there should be only one fight in our world today, our shared battle against COVID-19.”Al-Shabaab continues to terrorize Somalia, refusing to let up even throughout the pandemic.
In an interview with the Intercept, Chris Woods of Airwars called it “deeply troubling that more belligerents are not heeding the U.N.’s call for ceasefires during this global health crisis.” The White House noted that, although the U.S. supports the Secretary-General’s appeal for a ceasefire, they will proceed with their counter-terrorism agenda.