Kenyan airstrikes in southern Somalia are not as precise as the government claims, a new report by Journalists for Justice says.
JFJ audited 11 airstrikes by Kenyan forces and found that contrary to government claims of al-Shabaab targets destroyed, dozens of victims recounted the targeting of civilian villages, water-points and livestock.
JFJ researchers interviewed 13 victims of air strikes in Gedo and Lower Juba regions of southern Somalia between 2011 and 2015, and cross-checked their accounts with elders, medical staff in Kismayo as well as with other testimonies gathered by civil society organisations.
The consistent pattern that emerged was of air strikes targeting crowds of people and animals. The majority of victims seem to be herders and their livestock. Many complained of water points being destroyed.
As one 51-year old man from Gedo region who recently fled to Dadaab refugee camp after he got tired of living under the burden of constant air strikes said: “Whenever [an] insecurity incident happens in Kenya, our people are attacked from the air… unfortunately the Kenya Government claims it has killed and dismantled al-Shabaab cells, but they are taking advantage of the fact that no one ever comes to establish the facts.”
He lost two relatives in air strikes following the November 2014 Mandera bus attack and witnessed the deaths of others from his village the following week when Kenyan forces bombed the area in retaliation for the Mandera quarry massacre. He said, “Attacks are done without prior investigations of the areas to be bombed and mostly the targets are any crowd.”
According to the official KDF account, Chapter 10 of Operation Linda Nchi is concerned with the operations of the Joint Targeting Cell and numerous examples are given of air strikes hitting al-Shabaab convoys. Based on the testimonies recorded here, serious questions remain about the accuracy of the cell’s decisions.
In many cases, people have already been displaced by al-Shabaab repression. The UN estimates there are around 1.1 million internally displaced persons in Somalia. Anecdotal evidence and estimates from existing refugees suggests hundreds of victims of aerial bombing from Gedo and Lower Juba regions have fled to the Dadaab camp in 2015 alone.
In the villages around Bulla-Xawa, on the Somali side of the border from Mandera town, elders said 20 people had been killed, around 20 injured from shrapnel wounds and at least 50 camels killed during 2014. Another claimed the figure was closer to 35 dead and 45 injured going back to the beginning of 2013.
Elders in Dadaab refugee camp from Gedo region and six victims recently arrived from there said that the most common targets of Kenyan jets were the villages of Damasa, El Wak (Somalia), Gadoon Dabe, el-Cade, Bhadere, Gaweti Hills, Irida, Gurba, Khadija Hajji. Seven other victims interviewed in Liboi and Kismayo spoke of strikes in Lower Juba. A summary of all the strikes mentioned by interviewees is tabulated:
|Gadoon Dabe||April 6 and 7, 2015||6||3||9 camels, 2 cows, 5 goats|
|El-Cade||January 2015||1||10||12 animals|
|Birhani||December 20, 2014||1||2|
|Irida*||November 30, 2014||2||5||10 camels, 5 cows, 7 goats|
|Village near Garbatulla,||September 2014||1||2|
|Kudah||June 23, 2014||8||8||5 donkeys|
|Jilib||November 2013||2||70 cows and goats|
|Nov 2013||5 children||1||5 homes|
|Kol, Bulla-Xawa||March 2013||3||4||13 goats|
Interviews in Irida, Farigow and Jilib admitted that al-Shabaab had been spotted in their regions but that they lived in the inaccessible hilly areas and did not mix with the local population. “Our people are caught between a rock and a hard place,” under attack from al-Shabaab and from the KDF.
Another interviewee in Jilib said, “We agree there was al-Shabaab in our town but the militia have no known base. In their response, the KDF attack settlements where civilians are the victims.”
There has been no accountability for the civilian casualties caused by the Kenyan (and reportedly French) shelling of Kismayo prior to the KDF takeover of the city. A hospital in Kismayo reported to JFJ that it admitted 13 injured civilians during the strikes and 10 dead, mostly women and children. The hospital staff estimated that from the information they were aware of, around 50 people had been killed across the region due to airstrikes during 2012.
In the long run, transparency about military activities and mistakes will do more to bring peace to Somalia than fictional reports of large numbers of militants killed when in fact the only casualties have been goats and camels or, worse, innocent civilians.
JFJ also collected testimonies of two cases of disappearances: one by KDF and one by the Ras Kamboni militia.
Neighbours and relatives recalled that in February 2013, a man called Ali Yussuf was arrested by Ras Kamboni along the road between Kokani and Tabto. Efforts by relatives to trace him did not succeed. But some soldiers within the force told them he had been handed over to the KDF. He has never been seen since.
In October 2013, a KDF unit raided a shop in the village of Barkiit on the Somalia side of the Kenya-Somalia border and beat the five men inside in plain view of the whole village. The men were then bundled into a military vehicle. Witnesses said the KDF officers accused the men of being bandits and terrorizing the locals although many of them were related to the accused. The abducted men have never been seen since. Family members who followed up with the Kenya police and asked the whereabouts of their relatives were sent away by the police and threatened with deportation to Somalia.
Civil society organisations in Kismayo complained of regular beatings and torture by KDF, especially in the early days of the occupation, in 2012 and 2013. One soldier serving with KDF in Kismayo who spoke to JFJ on condition of anonymity said he had witnessed extra-judicial killings in the early days of the invasion in 2012 and that he had contemplated leaving the force as a result.
JFJ collected 12 testimonies of people beaten or tortured in custody by Kenyan soldiers between 2013 and 2015, as detailed below.
One 60-year old man interviewed by JFJ said he went to visit family in Gabarahary from the Dadaab refugee camp and was arrested between Mandera and Belet-Xawa. He was interrogated in a cell in Mandera and beaten in custody for three days before being released without charge. He is still confused as to the reason.
In Dhobley JFJ interviewed 10 people from surrounding areas who had complaints of arbitrary detention and beating. One elderly man said his eldest son had been arrested while taking cows to Afmadow in August 2014 and severely beaten. A young man returning to Dhobley said he had been arrested by Ras Kamboni in Tabto in 2013 then held by KDF for two days until elders pleaded for his release. Another young man travelling near Dhobley from Afmadow was arrested in October 2014 by KDF and beaten in custody for two hours before being released without charge. He has permanent injuries as a result. And one herder complained that KDF vehicles had run over his livestock without compensation.
Additionally, JFJ documented three cases of rape. One woman said she was raped by three KDF soldiers in uniform within Kismayo town in February 2013. Two others said they were attacked while returning to Kismayo from Dadaab camp.
The first woman explained that she lived alone with two children after her husband died. She said she was lured outside by the officers with the promise of being given some money. As soon as she stepped out of the house, she was accosted and raped, several metres from her compound. A soldier from Jubaland forces who was passing heard her distress and opened fire at her attackers but by then it was too late. The victim was given $1,500 compensation by the Jubaland authorities and warned not to speak about the incident since it would bring embarrassment to the Kenya Defence Forces which had helped establish the Jubaland government. She told JFJ she was speaking up now because the trauma still haunted her, especially the image of her children watching the attack by soldiers who should have been on a UN mission to protect her.
In a second incident in October 2014, two girls, aged 15 and 17 said they were raped by KDF soldiers manning a checkpoint in Dhobley. In the middle of the day, the girls approached the checkpoint. They were returning to Somalia voluntarily from Ifo refugee camp. Six soldiers, three for each girl, dragged them aside into a bushy area while accusing them of being sympathisers of al-Shabaab. The girls were taunted with obscenities and then raped in turn, they said. After being abandoned by the road they crawled into the path of a donkey cart driver who took them to a local clinic for assistance.
KDF should halt counter-productive airstrikes, investigate and compensate rights violations.
A wider-ranging inquiry by an independent body such as the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights or the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is necessary to gain a broader picture of the scope and scale of the problem.