Somali-American, House member Ilhan Omar, has spearheaded a letter to the commander of United States Defence Department’s (DOD) Africa Command (AFRICOM), General Stephen J.Townsend, demanding for increased transparency and public accountability on civilian casualties.
U.S AFRICOM is responsible for all DOD operations, exercises, and security cooperation on the African continent, its island nations, and surrounding waters.
The letter was co-signed by seven other Democratic representatives, all chairs of relevant House committees and subcommittees.
The other signatories are Rep. Adam Smith, Chair, House Committee on Armed Services; Rep. Adam Schiff, Chair, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Rep. Eliot Engel, Chair, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; and Rep. André Carson, Chair, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation.
Others are Rep. James Langevin, Chair, Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threat and Capabilities; Rep. Terri A. Sewell, Chair, Subcommittee on Defence Intelligence and Warfighter Support; and Rep. Karen Bass, Chair, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.
In the letter, members highlighted long discrepancies between civilian casualty figures calculated by Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs) and those admitted by U.S AFRICOM.
The letter recommended that in preparing these reports, AFRICOM should provide as much information as possible to the public about their assessments and why they differ from those of NGOs.
It said that if left unaddressed, the perception that the United States was unconcerned about civilian casualties could be damaging to US credibility and counterproductive to U.S. counterterrorism strategy and objectives.
The lawmakers applauded AFRICOM first Civilian Casualty Assessment Quarterly Report released on April 27, as part of the command’s commitment to transparency on the status of ongoing and completed civilian casualty allegations and assessments.
According to the report from February 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020, U.S. Africa Command conducted 91 airstrikes against Violent Extremist Organisations in Somalia and Libya.
During the period, U.S. Africa Command received 70 allegations about 27 separate possible civilian casualty incidents with approximately 90 alleged civilian casualties.
U.S. Africa Command has stepped airstrikes and special operations in Africa particularly against Al Shabaab in Somalia and Islamic State in Libya while also expanding military bases and supporting French and local partner Counter-terrorism operations in West African Sahel.