US Special Forces AC-130 gunships have been the primary platform for attacks in Somalia
Somali officials have claimed that the US killed 22 local soldiers and civilians in a drone strike that hit the north-central city of Galkayo late last month.
The US has confirmed it conducted a strike in the area on the same date, but claims all those killed were members of the Islamist militant group al Shabaab.
According to a press release from US Africa command, Somali forces were disrupting a bomb-making network when they were attacked by a group of al Shabaab fighters. The US intervened to “neutralize the threat”.
Officials in the semi-autonomous region of Galmudug dispute this, saying that the strike actually hit their forces. They have accused officials in the rival region Puntland of requesting US air support to attack the men on the pretext they were al Shabaab members.
The US has been carrying out covert operations against al Qaeda and its allies in Somalia since 2001. It has been using airstrikes to target alleged terrorist leaders and their henchmen since 2007, initially using gunships and cruise missiles, and more recently using drones.
The frequency of US strikes has increased considerably in the past two years. The US carried out 15 strikes from 2007-2014, according to the Bureau’s data. Seven of these were drone strikes and eight strikes were conducted using other weapons.
In 2015 alone there were 11 strikes and in the first nine months of 2016 there have already been 15 strikes.
The latest strike has been one of the most controversial.
In apparent support of the Galmudug officials’ claims, al Shabaab told BBC World’s Mary Harper that none of its fighters were targeted or killed by an air strike. The group also said that it has no fighters or bases in the area that was hit.
The situation on the ground in Somalia has meant details about drone strikes, including specifically who is killed, are often hard to come by.
There has been plenty of confused and at times contradictory reporting about this latest attack, not least because Galmudug and Puntland have clashed on a number of occasions.
Somalia’s government has taken an unusual step of asking the US to explain what happened during the attack.
At first the US brushed aside allegations of civilian casualties, telling the Bureau they believed the reports of non-combatant deaths were incorrect. However the US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the next day that the Pentagon would investigate the incident.
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Photo via Lockheed Martin/Flickr