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US air raids in Somalia killed seven civilians

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The United States military has not adequately investigated two air raids in Somalia earlier this year that have killed at least seven civilians, including a child, according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In a report released on Tuesday, the rights group said the killing of the civilians was in apparent violation of the laws of war. The HRW was referring to incidents on February 2 and March 10 in Jilib and Janaale, where no evidence of a military target involving the al- Shabab armed group was found, according to the report.

Al-Shabab is an al-Qaeda-linked group fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally recognised government. It once controlled much of the country, but it was forced out of the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds. Its fighters, however, regularly stage attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

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The air raid in Jilib, a small farming town in southern Somalia that is controlled by al- Shabab, killed a young woman and wounded several others. On March 10, another raid near Janaale, some 95km (59 miles) south of Mogadishu, hit a minibus. Six civilians, including a child, were killed.

According to HRW, relatives of those killed in both incidents publicly denied the US Africa Command’s (Africom) designation of their relatives as al-Shabab members and called on the US forces and the Somali government to meet them.

The HRW said neither Africom nor the Somali government is known to have contacted family members to investigate the attacks.

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“Reaching out to civilians seeking redress is not only the right thing to do, it will also help make its civilian casualty assessments more accurate,” Laetitia Bader, HRW’s Horn of Africa director, said.

“AFRICOM seems determined not to uncover whether its air strikes killed civilians or violated the laws of war. The military chain of command should recognise that not only does it have a legal obligation to investigate, but that basic decency toward the families of those harmed means providing financial assistance and an apology, not silence,” Bader said.

Between February and May, HRW said it interviewed 14 people by phone, including “relatives of those killed in the February and March attacks – four of whom visited the scene in its immediate aftermath – and assessed publicly available information about the air strikes”.

“We request that they stop killing innocent people,” a relative of a boy killed in the minibus attack was quoted as saying by HRW.— Al Jazeera

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