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Rights Group Challenges U.S. On Somali Civilians Killed In Drone Attacks


Since President Trump took office, the U.S. military has quietly increased the number of airstrikes it carries out in Somalia. That's according to a new report from Amnesty International. The Pentagon insists that anyone killed in these attacks has direct links to Islamist militants and al-Shabab. The human rights group says that is not true. NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us on the line from Nairobi.

Eyder, can you explain more about what Amnesty is alleging here?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Yeah, so they used satellite images to pinpoint where these airstrikes took place. They sent researchers into what were really remote parts of Somalia, and then they talked to families, to witnesses, to doctors near the strikes. And they say they are confident that at least in five of those strikes they looked at, at least 14 civilians were killed. I spoke to one of the researchers, Abdullahi Hassan, and here's a bit of what he told me.

ABDULLAHI HASSAN: The U.S. government have indiscriminately killed some of these civilians. When they attack civilians who are doing their farming or when they hit a vehicle carrying our civil fighters in the middle of a village full of children and women, then that is also unprofessional.

PERALTA: And Hassan says that they have killed women and children. And he says one of the big problems is that the U.S. is acting with impunity. They admit that these strikes take place, but they're not taking responsibilities for any of the civilians that may have been killed. In fact, Hassan says the U.S. is not even conducting on-the-ground investigations to find out who these airstrikes are killing. And Amnesty says that some of these strikes violate human rights law and that they may amount to war crimes.

MARTIN: But doesn't the Pentagon argue otherwise that they actually do do reporting to find out exactly who were the fatalities in individual attacks?

PERALTA: They do. They don't give us much information about what that investigation entails. And that's part of the problem here, Rachel - that this is happening in very rural Somalia, and they happen in areas controlled by al-Shabab. So it's hard and really dangerous for independent researchers or even us journalists to get out there and talk to people after a strike has happened.

MARTIN: And I guess some of it depends on how you define who has a direct link to al-Shabab and who does not.

PERALTA: That's right. And that's another thing we don't know from the Pentagon. U.S. Africa Command did send a written statement reacting to this report. And they say that from June 2017, they have conducted 110 airstrikes and killed more than 800 militants, but they say that no civilians have been killed and not even one injury. And it's worth noting that we have been asking for interviews with AFRICOM to get more details on how this works. And we've done that for more than a year, and they've only responded with limited written statements.

The U.S. treats much of what happens in Somalia with a ton of secrecy. I'll leave you with one example. We tend to call these bombings drone strikes, but Amnesty says that in at least one attack, the U.S. may have used a gunship - a manned gunship. The problem is the United States won't even publicly release the kinds of aircrafts they are using in Somalia.

MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta sharing, reporting with us about a new report from Amnesty International about U.S. strikes in Somalia. Eyder, thanks. We appreciate it.

PERALTA: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is an international correspondent for NPR. He was named NPR's Mexico City correspondent in 2022. Before that, he was based in Cape Town, South Africa. He started his journalism career as a pop music critic and after a few newspaper stints, he joined NPR in 2008.
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