NAIROBI (Reuters) – A U.S. air strike in a town held by Somali Islamist insurgents killed a telecommunications worker, his employer said on Tuesday, as the U.S. military’s Africa Command said it was investigating the report.
The strike follows allegations from Amnesty International a year ago that U.S. strikes were killing civilians.
Amnesty then said it had documented 14 civilian deaths in just five air strikes in 2017 and 2018. At the time, Africa Command (Africom) rejected the report but later said a review found that two civilians had been killed in a 2018 strike.
Africom carried out 63 air strikes in Somalia last year and has carried out 18 this year so far.
Monday’s strike in the al Shabaab stronghold of Jilib killed Mohamud Haji Salad, a site manager for Hormuud, Somalia’s biggest telecoms company, Hormuud said.
“Mr. Salad was highly respected among his colleagues and a valued member of the Hormuud team. He had a strong work ethic and he was known to be a good father to his children,” Hormuud Chief Operating Officer Abdirashid Ali said in a statement.
Africom confirmed its air strike in Jilib and said it was investigating.
“Our initial and current assessment of today’s airstrike reflects one al-Shabaab militant killed with no civilian casualties,” their statement said.
Hormuud, like many big telecommunications companies in East Africa, provide more than phone and data lines – they offer financial services that allow customers to send and receive money, a lifeline in a nation like Somalia where few formal banking services exist.
Hormuud has been hit in military operations before. One employee and a civilian were killed in a raid in 2018 that the company said appeared to be conducted by Kenyan troops.
Kenya sent soldiers into Somalia in 2011 after a series of al Shabaab raids and kidnappings in northern Kenya. Kenyan troops now operate there as part of an African Union peacekeeping force.
At least 11 Hormuud masts have also been destroyed, mostly by ground forces using explosives, said an internal company document.
“Witness statements suggest that the perpetrators travel from Kenya into Somalia; using vehicles, equipment and clothing that could be attributed to the Kenya Defense Forces,” the document said.
Kenyan defense forces did not respond to requests for comment.
Al Shabaab has also struck mobile phone masts in Kenya. Four school children were killed last month when insurgents attacked a mast for Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest telecoms operator, in eastern Garissa county, which neighbors Somalia.Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator and turned on each other. Al Shabaab is fighting to try to overthrow Somalia’s weak, U.N.-backed government and impose its own strict version of Islamic law.