Insignificant. Forgotten. An entire nation gaslighted and no deaths?
The United States has constructed airstrikes on Somalia since 2011 in an effort to combat al-Shabaab, an Islamist insurgent group credited for one of the worst terrorist attacks in Somalia: a truck bomb that massacred over 300 people in Mogadishu. Since April 2017, the US has dramatically increased the number of air strikes tripling the annual rate of attacks and, in 2018, outpacing US strikes in Libya and Yemen combined.
The US military maintains that airstrikes “reduce al-Shabaab’s ability to plot future attacks, disrupt its leadership networks and degrade its freedom of manoeuvre within the region.” However, the unprecedented number of airstrikes against al-Shabaab has resulted in significant casualties without weakening the terrorist group. Already, more than 20 innocent civilians have been killed, and as of 2019, more than 230 militants slaughtered. Despite this escalation, the U.S government claims that it has not killed any civilians and only due to an Amnesty International report, has the truth been unveiled. The report investigates the deaths of 14 innocent civilians who were simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Turning a blind eye to the U.S government and the increasing civilian casualties in Somalia is more than just an innocent life lost, it is a testament to America’s credibility and a glimpse into America’s true involvement in Somalia’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Airstrikes were originally only meant to target “high value targets”—terrorists that posed a true threat to the U.S. However, in March 2017 President Trump issued a directive designating parts of Somalia as highly hostile, resulting in the increase of strikes on the area and unreported deaths. Now, those who are planning or deciding the attack are, according to the US’s own standards, allowed to attack or fatally injure any civilian regardless of whether they are actually participating in hostilities. Despite this expansion of the directive, decrease in civilian protection and a significant increase in airstrikes, the Department of Defense stated in a report to Congress that of all the military operations in Somalia, zero civilians have been killed or injured.
Not only is this an ethical dilemma that goes against the very nature of war, but is also a demonstration of America’s credibility or lack thereof.
Innocent civilians should never be targeted, to do so is a war crime that violates the International Rules of War. The fact that the US is still refusing to acknowledge that civilian deaths are occurring is a reflection of the very nature of our nation. As citizens, our indifference will only result in more deaths and the further spiral down a long and dangerous road that could result in war.
The government of the US should ensure that all attacks do not violate international humanitarian law by reviewing the areas of attack and taking precautions to ensure that civilians are spared.
Ultimately, civilians have a right to receive the help they need after an attack on themselves or their resources. Yet it is clear that military operations–including airstrikes– are only escalating the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. Decades of violence, coupled with drought, poor governance and difficulties accessing humanitarian aid has left Somalia suffering one of the world’s worst humanitarian and human rights crises. Therefore, it is odd how President Trump is marking innocent deaths as the price that must be paid in order to stop al- Shabaab. More than 34,000 people have fled the area since the violence began, and over 2.6 millions people have been displaced into critically underfunded refugee camps. As airstrikes and drones continue to rain down, Somalia is flooded with dead livestock, wrecked homes and broken families.
Nonetheless, the civilian death toll and number of airstrikes is only part of the shroud that covers the U.S’s intervention in Somalia’s war. Since 1992 the U.S has led a Somalia intervention as a wider international humanitarian and peacekeeping effort. However, this so called effort balloneed from 50 to 500 American troops now stationed in Somalia alone. Special mine tanks roam the ground, and heavily armed helicopters patrol the sky for threats, yet al-Shabaab remains firmly alive, and active. Not only are the efforts of our government harming innocent citizens, but pushing Somalia further into the humanitarian crisis we were so keen to prevent.
Ultimately, these U.S military operations are based on the irrational fear that Somalia is a threat. However, al-Shabaab—the acclaimed terrorist group that has bombed thousands—has never attacked any citizen on U.S soil. In fact, in a statement by Browyn Bruton, director of programs and studies and the deputy director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, “I doubt very much that if the US were not in Somalia and were not so engaged as a combatant in Somali political affairs, that al -Shabaab would be very much interested in the US at all.”
As a nation, we should be concerned about much more than an abstract danger. As people, there needs to be an end to our indifference to human suffering. Somalia may be silenced by the U.S, but the U.S will not silence us.