Under the Trump administration, the US has significantly amped up military engagement in Somalia. Special forces are fighting alongside Somali soldiers to defeat terror organization al-Shabab. Sandra Petersmann reports.
Foreign soldiers, gunshots, explosions, air strikes – when refugees from Bariire talk about what they’ve experienced, they are unable to name exact dates. Days and events blur together as emotions run high.
They are afraid – of both sides, they say. Marian is now a widow and mother to seven children who have lost their father. When fighting in Bariire stopped, Marian found her husband’s body – bloody and riddled with bullets – dumped on a field. She can’t say who shot him or when he was killed.
Marian and others who fled the fighting are now sitting on the dusty streets of a refugee camp in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. The farmers fled their homes in Bariire, a town in the embattled region of Lower Shabelle in Somalia’s south, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Mogadishu.
Not long ago, Bariire was considered a stronghold of the Islamist al-Shabab militia that’s joined al-Qaeda in the fight for a caliphate.
But on August 20, African Union (AU) troops and Somali soldiers managed to retake Bariire’s city center. The AU has deployed some 22,000 soldiers in Somalia to fight against al-Shabab. Unconfirmed eyewitness reports say US soldiers also helped recapture the city.
What happened in Bariire?
A few days later, on August 25, there was another military operation – a raid on a farm in the early morning hours. Ten civilians lost their lives – among them were three boys aged eight to ten years.
The Somalian government initially denied civilians had been killed, but later corrected this statement. Relatives took the dead bodies all the way to Mogadishu in protest. Army chief General Ahmed Mohamed Jimale Irfid said they initially mistook the killed farmers for al-Shabab fighters due to it being dark in the early morning hours.
The US Africa Command based in Stuttgart, Germany, immediately issued a response on August 25.
“We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia. We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground,” the statement read.
“We can confirm that the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with US forces in a supporting role.”
Since then, no other details have been shared with the public. According to Somalian media reports, the clan of the killed farmers has received compensation payments.
Rebuilding a failed state
Somalia has been riven by war since 1991. The state disintegrated, with the country’s most powerful clans filling the void.
The country on the Horn of Africa now wants to build new federal structures with international help.
Since December of last year, there is a new parliament; since February of this year the country has a new president.
In both rounds of voting, the big Somalian clans were also vying for power – a lot of cash was handed out.
Still, the result can be considered a massive improvement, according to Michael Keating, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Somalia.
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