NAIROBI (Reuters) - The U.S. military did not kill any civilians when it accompanied Somali forces on a deadly raid in August, U.S. Africa command said late on Wednesday, the first public statement on the findings from an investigation into the raid.
The two-paragraph statement referred to a joint raid by U.S. and Somali troops on the village of Bariire. Eyewitnesses told Reuters that 10 civilians were killed and the military had been drawn into a local clan conflict.
The survivors and relatives of the dead said they wanted blood money and an apology.
The U.S. military denied that any civilians were killed, although it did not offer any details on the investigation.
The statement described the dead as “enemy combatants” and the military later said in a Twitter message that they were members of al Shabaab, the al-Qaeda linked insurgency. Africa Command did not provide any proof for their claim.
“After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAF) has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants,” the two paragraph statement read.
“Before conducting operations with partner forces, SOCAF conducts detailed planning and coordination to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties and to ensure compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict. U.S. Africa Command and the Department of Defense take allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.”
Despite promising a public investigation, the embattled Somali government has made no public statement on the raid, and some Somali security officials said privately that it would not, for fear of alienating the powerful clan whose members were killed.
Some Somali security officials have suggested privately that the survivors and relatives had misrepresented the incident to try to get cash and political advantages for their clan.
The United States has stepped up operations in Somalia this year after President Donald Trump loosened restrictions on the military in March. A Navy SEAL was killed there in May, the first U.S. combat casualty there since a Blackhawk helicopter was shot down in 1993.
The United States has also ramped up its use of air strikes, conducting twice as many strikes this year as last year.
Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1991. It now has a weak, internationally-backed government, supported by African peacekeepers.
Editing by Michael Perry, William Maclean