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‘So Much Agony and Suffering’ – Eye Witness Accounts of US Somalia Drone Strikes

As the US makes a rare admission of killing Somali civilians, CJ Werleman gathers eye witness accounts of a drone strike that may well have killed hundreds.

Balgala IDP (Internally displaced people) camp
‘So Much Agony and Suffering’
Eye Witness Accounts of
US Somalia Drone Strikes

As the US makes a rare admission of killing Somali civilians, CJ Werleman gathers eye witness accounts of a drone strike that may well have killed hundreds.

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How Would You Feel if Your Home Was Bombed With Missiles?


In what’s been described as a “rare admission” of culpability, the United States military acknowledged on Monday it had killed two civilians and injured three more when it carried out a drone strike in Somalia more than a year ago.

“Regrettably two civilians were killed and three others injured in a February 2019 airstrike,” said Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Africa Command’s top officer. “We are deeply sorry this occurred.”

Excluding this almost unprecedented claim of responsibility, the Pentagon has long denied its drone strikes and air raids against al Shabaab, an extremist group with ties to al Qaeda, have resulted in civilian deaths, even as human groups organizations, including Amnesty International, have accused the US military of providing “zero accountability” for casualties via its Africa command (AFRICOM).

 “Not only does AFRICOM utterly fail at its mission to report civilian casualties in Somalia, but it doesn’t seem to care about the fate of the numerous families it has completely torn apart,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s east and southern Africa director, told The Guardian.

Using its fleet of Reaper drones, the US military started carrying out drone strikes in Somalia in June 2011, deploying them as means for providing aerial support for its known covert operations in the region. 

Under the Trump administration, these attacks have experienced a year-on-year increase, rising from 14 in 2016 to 63 in 2019 – and with more than 30 documented in the first four months of the current year, according to the monitoring group Airwars.

But whereas the US military has admitted to only two civilian casualties in the course of its decade long aerial bombardment campaign against al Shabaab, local Somali media outlets estimate the death toll to exceed three hundred, and with Airwars placing the cost of innocent human lives in the range of 139 to 284.

Our Findings

Over the course of the past several weeks, Mohamed Abdulkaadir, a Somali journalist; Samir Abdrisak, a Somali photographer, and myself have collected video testimonies from US drone strike survivors and their families, who have each recently fled their homes for the relative safety of a refugee camp located on the outskirts of the Somali capital Mogadishu, otherwise known as Bagala IDP camp.

These are the victims of the United States’ highly secretive drone war in their own words, interviewed at the Balgala camp for internally displaced people.

Balgala IDP camp


Question: How many of your family is here?

Hawa: 12

Question: From where did you flee?

Hawa: Janaale

Question: Why did you flee Janaale?

Hawa: Because of the [drone] strikes

Question: Can you let us know when the strikes took place? Was it during the day or the night?

Hawa: Both night and day. They just kept on coming

Question: What happened?

Hawa: Our homes destroyed, livestock destroyed, crops destroyed, people obliterated. our children and I faced so much agony and suffering after being forced to flee. And now we don’t even have a single bag, let alone a home to go to.

One of those killed was my husband. Another one was my sister’s son. And another is my nephew.

*(Hawa then breaks down into tears before sobbing uncontrollably for the next seven minutes)

Question: Do you have any family members, relatives or friends affected by the drone strike?

Hawa: Yes, all the men died

Question: How many people did you know died in the strike?

Hawa: Three people.

Question: What was your relationship to these people?

Hawa: One of those killed was my husband. Another one was my sister’s son. And another is my nephew.

Question: When your husband was killed by the missile fired from the drone and you saw his body laying there, can you say what happened next?

Hawa: When we saw his body, we had no choice but to drop everything and run. We fled for our lives. Even left our cattle behind.

Question: Did you get a chance to bury him?

Hawa: No we didn’t. We left him there. I feared for my life and fled. If I stayed behind, I would have been killed alongside him.

Question: What was your husband doing at the time of the attack?

Hawa: He was working in the field with the crops.

Question: Did this strike happen during the night?

Hawa: Yes, the night.

Question: Did you personally sustain any injuries from the strike?

Hawa: No, but I’m hurt [emotionally] on the inside.

Question: When exactly did the attack occur?

Hawa: [She’s unable to recall the exact date, but said it occurred during the month of March].

Question: Following the strike, how did you end up here?

Hawa: We walked as far as we could until we saw a car driving down the road and than we hitchhiked a ride and arrived here. We arrived with nothing. When it rains the children and I take shelter under a tree.

Question: Do you think you’ll ever return to Janaale?

Hawa: Yes, our crops, farms are there. We might die but our entire lives are back there, but right now it’s Ramadan and we have nothing to break our fast with. We have no home. We’re hungry.

Question: What is the message you want to send the world?

Hawa: What happened to us was pre-destined by Allah and it happened. All we ask is assistance in obtaining food; shelter and a normal livelihood just like the others.


Question: How many people in your family?

Husema: Eleven.

Question: From where did you flee?

Husema: Janaale.

Question: Why did you flee Janaale?

Husema: Because of tension in the area.

Question: What kind of tension?

Husema: The fighting and the strikes from the planes.

Question: When the strikes took place was it during the night or the daytime?

Husema: The strikes took place during the night and day but it was mostly in the night.

Question: How did this make you feel?

Husema: I felt it so much, my grandmother was killed and another lady I knew lost her leg as a result of the strike.

*(Husema begins sobbing uncontrollably for the next four minutes)

Question: What did you encounter on that day?

Husema: We had a little money, so we hitchhiked but we where stopped in the middle of our journey and some people were taken [a possible reference to government troops detaining civilians at a checkpoint for further questioning].

Question: Was your grandmother killed directly by the strike?

Husema: Yes, she died in the strike as a result of sustaining wounds from the missile that hit here. She was struck by [shrapnel] to her heart.

Question: Do you recall when the strike happened?

Husema: They [US] began firing down on crops. We saw dead and wounded everywhere. Then the next day it happened again [more strikes] and then it happened a third day in a row. [She guesses the date of the attacks to be March 21 or 22.


Question: How many people are there in your family?

Halima: We are a family of eight.

Question: Where did you come from?

Halima: Janaale.

Question: Why did you leave Janaale?

Halima: Because of the fighting and the explosions from the planes [reference to drone strikes].

Question: When did the strikes occur was it during the day or the night?

Halima: It would start in the night and go on until the next morning.

Question: What did you experience?

Halima: I’m a rural person. I know nothing about messages. I will leave it in Allah’s hands.

Halima: I felt so much weight and pressure. I was hungry and me and my children were left in a daze.

Question: Can you explain what you experienced from the strikes?

Halima: When the strikes began, the situation was unbearable.

Question: Were your family members or friends physically affected by the strikes?

Halima: Yes, people died. There where two people killed. [She continues referring to the drones “hitting them.”]

Question: Did you sustain any wounds in the strike?

Halima: No, but my siblings suffered injuries.

Question: What type of injuries?

Halima: They sustained minor wounds and were lucky enough to be patched up afterwards.

Question: Do you recall the date the strike occurred?

Halima: No – I ‘m someone who is suffering pain, hunger and trauma. I do not recall the date!

Question: Do you recall the month that the strike occurred?

Halima: I don’t even remember the month. We had to keep running.

Question: Did the strike occur this year?

Halima: Yes, it was this year

Question: When did you arrive here at the IDP camp?

Halima: I’ve been here for the past 4 months. We got her by foot. We had no other choice. No car or anything. It was a painful experience. [She later guesses the date of the attack to be December].

Question: When you were in Janaale, did you have crops and farm?

Halima: I had everything in Janaale and lived a normal life and now I’m here [IDP camp] with nothing.

Question: Knowing the US drone strikes displaced you from your home, what message do you want to send them?

Halima: I’m a rural person. I know nothing about messages. I will leave it in Allah’s hands.


Question: From where did you flee?

Faudumo: I’m from the Lower Shabelle province, the town of Janaale to be in fact. We fled to the violence and ongoing strikes. We reached the city [Mogadishu] after a perilous and painful journey. Now we have nothing. No Food. Nowhere to go and we can’t even go back home because of the fierce fighting.

Question: When did the strikes occur, during the day or night?

Faudumo: The strikes occurred during midday and during the Duhur prayers, when people where going out and about.

Faudumo: The entire family died. No one survived. The family consisted of eight people, including the parents and six other children.

Question: What did you witness?

Faudumo: I felt a lot of fear. First it hit the home of a Madrassa teacher, then our neighbor. So we can’t stay in the city any longer because [in reference to the strikes].

Question: Do you have any family or friends that were harmed in the drone strike?

Faudumo: Yes, my son’s Quran teacher. The missile hit his home.

Question: What happened to him?

Faudumo: The entire family died. No one survived. The family consisted of eight people, including the parents and six other children.

Question: Do you remember the date the strike occurred?

Faudumo: It happened in March during Shabaan. 

Question: After the strike, how did you arrive in Mogadishu?

Faudumo: After we fled [Janaale], we went to town after town and then we reached the town of Afgooye [located 30 kilometers from Mogadishu]. From there we saw a vehicle and hitchhiked a ride, and then we told them [the driver, presumably] that we fled the fighting and have nowhere to go and then he gave us enough money to continue our journey to Mogadishu.

Question: If the strikes continue, what will you do?

Faudumo: If the strikes continue, then we hope to get help here [Mogadishu].

Question: What further do you have to say about these drone strikes?

Faudumo: We feel a heavy burden. How you would you feel if your home was bombed with missiles? Where would you run? Where would the women go? The men, and the children? As a result we need assistance, a place to live and food to eat.

Our Conclusions

It’s significant that four of the five interviews said they witnessed US drone strikes in and around the town of Janaale during the month of March, given the US military’s AFRICOM issued a statement on March 10, 2020, saying it’s currently conducting airstrikes “against al Shabaab terrorists in the vicinity of Janaale.”

And then on March 19, AFRICOM claimed it had launched five airstrikes over two days, spanning March 16 to 17 against the Somali-led group near Janaale.

According to the US State Department, AFRICOM has been concentrating its drone strikes in Janaale and nearby Jilib since 2016, with the State Department describing the Jubba River Valley region as an operational hub for al Shabaab, claiming the group controls “several villages and towns throughout the Jubaland region, including Janaale, Jilib, and Kunyo Barrow.”

 “Our strikes are a key effort to combating terror and helping to bring stability and security to Somalia,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Chris Karns, U.S. Africa Command director of public affairs. “Not only do they degrade al-Shabaab’s ability to conduct violent activities in the region, but they place relentless pressure on their fighter network and impede their ability to export terrorism.”

In an official statement, AFRICOM claimed it had assessed that no civilians were injured in the March 10 airstrike, but acknowledges it’s “aware of social media reports alleging civilian casualties resulting from this strike.”

“As with any allegation of civilian casualties, U.S. Africa Command will review any information it has about the incident, including any relevant information provided by third parties, and take appropriate action based on the outcome of this review,” says AFRICOM.

If the US military is sincere in its stated intent to review information alleging civilian casualties from its drone war in Somalia, then it must start with the video testimonies provided by these survivors, who have each given a credible recount of US terror witnessed and experienced.

Failure to do so will only lend further support to widespread claims the US continues to deliberately underreport civilian casualties in its now two decade long “War on Terror.”

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