Two civilians were killed and three injured in a United States air strike in Somalia early last year, the US said in a rare acknowledgement of civilian casualties from United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) military operations in the Horn of Africa country.

The deaths were mentioned on Monday in a debut quarterly assessment report by AFRICOM on allegations of civilian casualties raised in connection with its operations against armed fighters in Somalia, Libya and other African countries.

“Regrettably two civilians were killed and three others injured in a February 2019 air strike. We are deeply sorry this occurred,” AFRICOM’s commander, US Army General Stephen Townsend, said in the report.

The air strike was carried out in the vicinity of Kunyo Barrow in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region and the report said the intended target – two members of the Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group – were killed.

The civilian deaths, it said, occurred as a result of US or al-Shabab munitions that exploded during the air strike.

It was the second known incident in which AFRICOM has acknowledged killing civilians in Somalia, where rights activists have accused it of long shrouding its operations in secrecy.

The first was an air strike in April 2018 in El Buur, in the Galgaduud region of central Somalia, in which AFRICOM reported it had unintentionally killed two civilians.

The US has been conducting air attack in Somalia for years to help defeat al-Shabab, which seeks to topple Somalia’s western-backed central government and set up its own rule based on strict interpretation of the Islamic sharia law.

For nearly two decades, al-Shabab has been attacking military and civilian targets, including hotels and traffic junctions in Somalia and neighbouring countries, including Kenya.

A regional peacekeeping force, the African Union Mission in Somalia, also helps defend the Somali government.

Amnesty International said AFRICOM’s move to publish quarterly assessment reports on civilian casualty allegations is a welcome step towards transparency.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Eastern Africa, Seif Magango, added that the US must follow up with “accountability and reparation for victims and their families”.

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