March 20 (UPI) -- Allegations by Amnesty International that Somalian civilians have been harmed by the U.S. Africa Command were disputed by the Pentagon on Wednesday.
A 72-page report by the London-based human rights group, released on Tuesday, said that 14 civilians in Somalia were killed, and eight injured, in five of over 100 drone and manned airstrikes.
Africom and Somali government forces are battling members of the al-Shabab terrorist group in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, near the capital city of Mogadishu.
"Since April 2017, the United States of America has dramatically increased the number of air strikes -- from manned aircraft and unmanned drones -- it has launched in Somalia, tripling the annual rate of attacks, and, in 2018, outpacing U.S. strikes in Libya and Yemen combined. Despite this escalation, the U.S. government claims that it has not killed any civilians in Somalia during this period. In this report, Amnesty International provides credible evidence to the contrary," the report reads in part.
Defense Department officials called Amnesty International's report incorrect. It noted in a statement Wednesday that the number of airstrikes mentioned in the report was reduced from eight to five after a Pentagon official, who read the report prior to its release, pointed out that Africom aircraft could not have been involved in three of the incidents.
"We appreciate Amnesty's efforts to allow us to contribute to the report prior to its publication," the unidentified official said, "but we really do believe the report does not accurately reflect Africom's record in mitigating civilian casualties."
"We exercise restraint as a matter of transparency. We work with all information reasonably available at the time prior to taking any decision to apply lethal force against al-Shabaab in support of Somali partners," the official said.
The Pentagon statement added that over 800 al-Shabab members have been killed in 110 airstrikes since June 2017.
Brian Castner of Amnesty International called the Pentagon's alleged actions in Somalia a "smokescreen for impunity. Our findings directly contradict the U.S. military's mantra of zero civilian casualties in Somalia."