US ends casualty reporting for Somalia airstrikes

US ends casualty reporting for Somalia airstrikes

By Luke Vargas   
The sun is setting on transparency about U.S. strikes in Somalia. Courtesy: U.S. Department of Defense/Staff Sgt. Hugo Brito
The sun is setting on transparency about U.S. strikes in Somalia. (Staff Sgt. Hugo Brito/U.S. Department of Defense)

Experts say the Somali government isn't capable of measuring the impact of U.S. strikes against Al-Shabab on its own.

NEW YORK – The U.S. military carried out fresh airstrikes against Al-Shabab terrorists this week in Somalia, striking back against the Al-Qaeda linked group a week after it claimed responsibility for an attack in the Kenyan capital Nairobi that left 21 people dead.

“The Trump administration has been working hard to combat Al-Shabab.”

Bronwyn Bruton is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

“The interesting thing is they’re mostly doing the same things the Obama administration had done, except that they’re relying am awful lot more on airstrikes to get the job done.”

Case in point, the U.S. carried out 47 strikes against Al-Shabab targets in Somalia in 2018, up from 38 the year before. Just last week, the U.S. said it killed 52 Al-Shabab fighters in a single strike, one of as many as 10 strikes so far this year.

And there’s reason to be concerned about Al-Shabab, beyond its attacks in neighboring Somalia. Bruton says the U.S. has long worried Somalia could become a haven for terrorists, with the country’s central government too weak to do anything about it.

“The immediate fear is that someone who works with Al-Shabab, a Somali who has an American passport, may be radicalized and use that passport to get into the States. I don’t think that’s something that people are afraid of happening tomorrow, but it’s something that may well happen in years to come.”

But Bruton says that if that’s the concern, a U.S. decision this week to stop reporting casualty counts from its airstrikes and instead hand those duties over to the Somali government could transform that country into another theater of American warfare hidden from the American public but very visible to those suffering on the ground.

“We know from American activities in Afghanistan and the Middle East that when we have too many airstrikes that wind up killing too many civilians, it actually winds up backfiring. I think it’s going to be really hard to see that backfire coming if we don’t have good reporting on this.”

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