El-Lahelay (Caasimada Online) – In the midst of a quiet evening in the village of El-Lahelay in Somalia’s Galgadud state, a sudden drone strike tore through a household, thrusting the small community into a whirlwind of accusations and counterclaims.
Two local leaders confirmed that the attack killed five civilians and three Al-Shabab militants. However, as with many conflicts in the region, varying accounts of the tragic event swiftly took center stage.
The state-controlled broadcaster presented an alternative version of the event, asserting that the tragic deaths of a woman and her two children resulted from a hidden landmine within the house planted by the militants.
Their narrative steered clear of the implications of a drone strike.
The militants and the aftermath
SONNA, the state news agency, reported that the casualties included high-ranking members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab group.
Olol Ali Guled, a name known to many, was reportedly among the dead – he had been recognized as the group’s commander for the Galgadud region.
However, the agency’s narrative contained an evident omission; it failed to acknowledge the use of a drone or the civilian casualties resulting from the incident.
Farah Aden, a local leader, painted a vivid picture over the phone. He described how the militants, after being trailed by a drone, sought refuge at a relative’s residence in El-Lahelay.
“They were seated outside the house and enjoying meat and rice. As they ate the meat, the drone struck them. The house was untouched, and civilians weren’t its target. However, the explosive shrapnel claimed their lives,” Aden expounded.
Reactions and accusations
In a formal statement, the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) acknowledged the operation and the death of three Al-Shabab leaders, expressing regret over the civilian casualties.
“The command’s initial assessment is that three al Shabaab leaders were killed as a result of the operation and, unfortunately, civilians were injured and killed in the vicinity of the operation,” AFRICOM said in a statement.
Their announcement clarified that while assisting the Somali government in its ongoing offensive against Al-Shabab, they did not play an active role in this particular operation or support it with air strikes.
“U.S. forces were not onsite for the operation and did not conduct air strikes during or in support of the operation,” it said.
Countering the accusations, Al-Shabab released a statement decrying the “American atrocities against the Muslims of Somalia,” alleging that six civilians had fallen victim to a deliberate attack by AFRICOM.
The U.S. military command quickly refutes these allegations, underscoring that they did not cause harm to the civilians, as Al-Shabab suggested.
As the narratives continue to diverge, it remains clear that the truth remains muddled in a web of accusations and counterclaims.
The Somalia government communications minister remained silent, not addressing the requests for comments from Reuters.
In the past year, the Somali military has employed Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones in its campaign against Al-Shabab, reclaiming vast territories in the central regions of the Horn of Africa nation.