The Pentagon is pushing back on a new Amnesty International report that alleges the Defense Department is responsible for civilian casualties that occurred in a ramp-up of air strikes in Somalia over the last two years.

United States Africa Command says that there have been no civilian casualties as a result of U.S. air strikes targeting the al-Qaida-affiliated extremist group al-Shabaab.

“Our assessments found that no AFRICOM air strike resulted in any civilian casualty or injury,” the command said Tuesday in a release. “Our assessments are based on post-strike analysis using intelligence methods not available to non-military organizations.”

During research for its report, the London-based human rights organization originally submitted 13 allegations of civilian casualties in October 2018 and February 2019, AFRICOM officials said.

Officials said the group corresponded with the command regarding eight air strikes that occurred between 2017 and in 2018 that Amnesty International says directly contributed to civilian casualties.

The final Amnesty report investigated five incidents in the Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia between April 2017 and December 2018 “where civilians allegedly were killed by U.S. air strikes,” the group said. The five incidents were carried out with “[MQ-9] Reaper drones and manned aircraft in the … region largely under al-Shabaab control outside the Somali capital Mogadishu,” the report said.

The report, “The Hidden U.S. War in Somalia,” details how 14 civilians were allegedly killed and eight more injured in just five of the 100-plus strikes in the past two years. The group interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of the five alleged U.S. strikes and another 77 witnesses and survivors “of other alleged U.S. air strikes in Somalia which are not detailed in this report.”

The findings “directly contradict” AFRICOM’s zero-casualty claim, and the incidents “appear to have violated international humanitarian law, and some may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty said.

“We work with all information reasonably available at the time prior to taking any decision to apply lethal force against al-Shabaab in support of our Somali partners,” a Defense Department official said during a phone call with reporters Tuesday.

“But we do take allegations of civilian casualties seriously regardless of their origin,” the official said, adding that officials investigate all civilian casualty reports including those that surface on social media.

“We have the ability immediately after the event to continue our assessment of the military conditions [and] the social media environment in using all the information available to us” for a post-strike assessment, the official added.

By Oriana Pawlyk

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