Multiple Casualties, Including Children, Reported After Airstrike in Somalia, According to Residents and Authorities
Residents and officials in Somalia have reported a devastating airstrike in a town that resulted in numerous casualties, including innocent children. Meanwhile, three members of an extremist group linked to al-Qaida were killed in the attack.
The U.S. military acknowledged in a statement on Friday that “unfortunately, civilians were injured and killed” during a military operation conducted by Somali forces in El-Lahelay village on Wednesday. Despite this, the U.S. denied conducting airstrikes or being present at the scene, stating that American forces only evacuated injured civilians at the request of the Somali government.
The U.S. Africa Command declined to provide further information, including the exact number of civilian casualties. It is worth noting that the U.S. has been carrying out airstrikes for years in support of Somali forces against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group. While the statement from the U.S. military insisted that al-Shabab’s claim of U.S. forces causing harm to civilians is false, it has previously acknowledged inadvertently killing civilians in airstrikes.
Accounts of the incident on Wednesday offered differing testimonies from witnesses and local authorities. According to Amal Ali, a relative of the victims, an airstrike targeted a vehicle belonging to al-Shabab as it passed near their family home in El-Garas town, located in Galmudug state. Tragically, a grandmother and five of her grandchildren lost their lives in the attack. The children’s father, Dahir Ahmed, confirmed the incident but was unable to provide further details at the time.
Abdifatah Ali Halane, the secretary-general of the El-Garas administration, claimed that the airstrike, which he attributed to the Americans, resulted in the deaths of three individuals, including two suspected al-Shabab members. Additionally, five people were injured, including four children. Halane emphasized the crucial aerial support provided by the U.S. throughout operations against extremists in Galmudug state, and praised Somali forces for swiftly coming to the aid of the wounded and facilitating their evacuation to Mogadishu for medical treatment.
Somalia’s deputy information minister, Abdirahman Adala, informed journalists that three al-Shabab members were killed in the Somali forces’ operation. However, he also disclosed that the extremists had hidden explosive materials in a nearby residence, which unfortunately led to civilian casualties.
The Somali government launched a comprehensive offensive against al-Shabab last year, describing it as a “total war.” Al-Shabab currently controls parts of rural central and southern Somalia, exploiting residents and businesses through taxation and extortion.