By Brett Wilkins

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is calling on the United States military to acknowledge civilian casualties caused by unmanned aerial drone strikes in Somalia, and to compensate those harmed by such attacks.

Speaking to the BBC, Omar, who is originally from Somalia, said that the US was obligated under international law to compensate civilians harmed during war.

“Drone attacks in Somalia take place in night time,” the 37-year old congresswoman said. “They don’t kill only terrorists, but civilians as well, and families sleeping together.”

“What we are working now is stop this and make sure its been directed accurately, and most importantly to pay compensation on those who lost their lives,” Omar continued. “We are subject to the international law, and therefore compensation should be paid if someone has been illegally killed by another state.”

Under President Donald Trump, civilian casualties have soared in several countries under attack by the United States in its open-ended anti-terrorism campaign, now in its 19th year. While campaigning for president in 2015, Donald Trump said he would “bomb the shit out of” Islamist militants and kill their families. His administration has fulfilled that promise, loosening rules of engagement meant to protect civilians and resulting in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi, Syrian, Afghan and Somali civilians from US-led bombing, artillery strikes and other military action.

Last year, President Trump also signed an executive order revoking an Obama-era requirement that the director of national intelligence publish an annual report on civilian deaths caused by drone strikes in areas “outside of war zones” that are nevertheless under US attack, including Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya.

Trump’s escalation has taken a deadly toll on Somali civilians. Drone strikes and other aerial bombardment are only part of the problem, as US Special Forces troops have also killed men, women and children while conducting anti-terrorism raids that have themselves been condemned as a form of terrorism. The US has been reluctant to acknowledge when its forces kill civilians, even when it has credible evidence of such deaths. It wasn’t until April 2019 that US Africa Command (AFRICOM) admitted that Somali civilians had been killed by a drone strike it previously said had killed five Al-Shabaab militants and no civilians.

Last October, a US drone strike targeting Islamic State militants in northeastern Somalia accidentally killed two civilians gathering frankincense. AFRICOM denied killing any civilians; it claimed “the airstrike killed three terrorists” and that “no civilians were injured or killed.” AFRICOM public affairs director Col. Chris Karns added that US strikes “are important because they help disrupt Al-Shabaab” and “set the conditions for development, they set the conditions for governance and they’re foundational to the progress that’s being made.”

In the BBC interview, Omar — who has been the target of racist attacks by Trump — responded to the president’s Somalia-bashing. “When he doesn’t have anything good to say about his government, he looks for things to embarrass people with, such as picking Somalia and me,” she said of Trump. “But we both know the truth, that Somalia is a country that is building, it is a country where we have high hopes, and hearts are in Somalia.”

(Photo Credit: MPAC National/Flickr Creative Commons)

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