Somali army refutes local officials’ claims and says al-Shabab fighters were killed during operation with US soldiers.
At least 10 civilians, including three children, have been killed in a joint raid by Somali forces and US troops in the country’s south, local officials alleged, but Somalia’s army denied the claim.
The attack, which took place in the early hours of Friday, targeted a farm on the outskirts of the town of Bariire in the southern Lower Shabelle region.
“These local farmers were attacked by foreign troops while looking after their crops,” regional Deputy Governor Ali Nur Mohamed told reporters in the capital Mogadishu.
“The troops could have arrested them because they were unarmed, but instead shot them one by one mercilessly.”
Three children aged eight to 10 and a woman were among the dead, Mohamed said. Their blanket-wrapped bodies were laid out in a grassy courtyard for display.
The Somali National Army (SNA) contradicted Mohamed’s statement, saying no civilians were killed during the security operation that instead resulted in the deaths of eight al-Shabab fighters.
“The SNA carried out an operation this morning against a farm in Bariire with known al-Shabab presence,” the statement quoted General Sheegow, commander of the 20th Brigade, as saying.
“Al-Shabab started shooting at SNA forces after our soldiers entered the farm. The individuals shooting at the SNA were al-Shabaab fighters, they were not farmers.”
African Union forces and Somali soldiers recaptured Bariire, located 40km southwest of Mogadishu, from the armed group al-Shabab six days ago.
The involvement of American troops during Friday’s attack was confirmed by US Africa Command, which offered no further details.
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“The Somalia National Army was conducting an operation in the area with US forces in a supporting role,” a spokeswoman for US Africa Command told Reuters news agency.
A statement by the US military said it is aware of the “civilian casualty allegations” and is conducting an assessment into the situation.
Bariire is at the centre of a feud between two powerful and well-armed clans, lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow said. He said those killed were farmers who had armed themselves to defend against the rival group.
“The two clans who fought misinformed the US forces,” said Amin, adding one group may have tipped off security forces that the other side were insurgents.
Witness Warsame Wador told Reuters the dead were farmers who had been asleep when the raid began just before sunrise.
“It was this morning when white and Somali forces entered the farm. All the 10 people were asleep and I ran for my life,” he said. “As I ran away I could see four armoured vehicles parked outside.”
Reuters viewed nine bodies at Madina hospital. An injured man later died, medical staff said. The dead children were eight, nine, and 10 years old, said clan elder Abukar Osman Sheikh.
“They were sleeping in their farm when US and Somali forces came into their farm and opened fire. Last year, the US killed my people in Galkayo in a deliberate strike. We shall not bury them. We shall no longer tolerate it,” he said.
Al-Shabab, which has become the deadliest armed group in Africa, continues to hold vast areas of rural Somalia after being chased out of major cities in recent years by the multinational African Union force and Somali troops.
The group continues to threaten the fragile central government and carry out deadly attacks in neighbouring countries, notably Kenya.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab, including more aggressive air strikes.
The United States and Somalia in recent weeks said strikes have killed al-Shabab leaders responsible for planning and executing deadly attacks in Mogadishu, where high-profile areas such as hotels and military checkpoints are often targeted with deadly bombings.
Source: News agencies