The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) will be releasing the first of what are intended to be quarterly accounts of civilian casualties in Somalia, where AFRICOM has been waging a steadily escalating shadow war against the al-Shabab terrorist group. Missile strikes by remote-controlled aerial vehicles, better known as drones, have become the Americans’ preferred attack option.
Amnesty International’s investigations into just eight air strikes found they had killed twenty-one civilians.
Dramatically Different Numbers
These reports have been hailed as a positive move toward transparency, but they do nothing to resolve the large discrepancies in the number of civilian deaths according to AFRICOM and the figures furnished by humanitarian groups like Amnesty International, the strike-tracking NGO Airwars, local media, and independent journalists.
In Somalia, AFRICOM alleges only two civilians have been killed in more than 175 air strikes during the past three years, yet Amnesty International’s investigations into just eight air strikes found they had killed twenty-one civilians and wounded eleven.
On the whole, this lack of investigation into civilian casualties after attacks is not unique or new to the Somali theater. Amnesty International relies heavily on interviews, which it cross-references to collate its data, seeing as it doesn’t have the same access to strike sites as the US militants do given the security risks. AFRICOM, conversely, has been criticized for conducting too few interviews, a difference in methodology that explains the wide divergence in official death tallies.
Under the Trump administration, the rules of engagement have been relaxed, including the revoking of an Obama-era policy that required the CIA to release an annual summary of US drone strikes and the number of casualties outside of war zones.
A lack of transparency goes hand in hand with a lack of accountability.