April 27 (UPI) -- More than three weeks after a global human rights group reported the U.S. military has killed nearly two dozen civilians in Somalia over the past year, U.S. officials acknowledged that an attack last year killed two.
The Pentagon's Africa Command, or AFRICOM, said the two civilians were "regrettably and unintentionally killed" and three were injured by a Feb. 23, 2019, airstrike that targeted al-Shabaab terrorists near Kunyo Barrow, Somalia.
The civilian deaths had not previously been acknowledged by AFRICOM.
Gen. Stephen Townsend said the disclosure is part of an effort to be more transparent in the military's reporting of civilian casualties in the air campaign against Somalian targets.
"Since taking command I have placed additional focus on increasing the transparency of our process and status of closed and ongoing allegations," Townsend said. "It is important that our partners and the public understand our commitment to minimizing collateral damage while conducting military operations. Where we come up short, we will admit it openly."
Amnesty International said in a report on April 1 the U.S. military had killed at least 21 civilians in several Somalia airstrikes since March 2019 but hadn't reported them. Just one civilian death from 2018 had been officially reported, it noted.
The Amnesty report said the deaths were part of an escalating "secret war" against al-Shabaab terrorists that included nearly three dozen airstrikes over the first three months of 2020. AFRICOM carried out 63 strikes there in 2019.
Townsend disputed Amnesty's characterization of the operation as a "secret war."
"How can there be when the whole world knows we are assisting Somalia in their fight against al-Shabaab terrorists?" he asked. "When we publicly announce every single airstrike we conduct? When we publicly admit to our mistakes? Unlike al-Shabaab we do everything in our power to avoid civilian casualties and that is not changing on my watch."