At least ten civilians, including three children, were killed when U.S. Special Forces raided a village in Somalia last week in search of al-Shabaab fighters, according to reports.
U.S. Africa Command has not confirmed the death toll but said it is investigating the incident.
"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," U.S. Africa Command said in a statement.
"We can confirm that the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with U.S. forces in a supporting role. U.S. forces are in Somalia at the request of the Federal Government of Somalia and are committed to helping Somali forces neutralize al-Shabaab and bring stability to the region."
- Al-Shabab Militants in Somalia Hold Dozens Hostage Following Suicide Bomb Attack
- Al-Shabaab double bombing at Somali hotel kills 11
The U.S. Special Forces team was accompanied by Somalian forces during the raid. The Somalian government initially said no civilians were killed, but later issued a second statement to say that there had been civilian deaths.
"It appears that there were different security operations that took place in the same area," the Somalian information ministry said. "We also understand that there are civilian casualties in which the federal government is investigating to find out the truth about this."
Regional Deputy Governor Ali Nur Mohamed told reporters that "local farmers were attacked by foreign troops while looking after their crops," according to Al Jazeera.
"The troops could have arrested them because they were unarmed, but instead shot them one by one mercilessly," he said.
But the Somalian information ministry said al-Shabaab fighters started shooting at Somalian forces, which led to the deadly firefight.
"Al-Shabab started shooting at [Somalia National Army] forces after our soldiers entered the farm," the information ministry said. "The individuals shooting at the SNA soldiers were al-Shabab fighters. They were not farmers. We talked to the farmers in the area and instructed them to put their weapons in their homes to avoid confusion."
The children believed to have been killed in the raid were between the ages of 8 and 10. A woman was also reportedly killed.
In recent months, the U.S. military has increased its presence in Africa in an attempt to root out terrorist groups like al-Shabaab. The mission reportedly costs $900 million per year, a substantial increase from $300 million in 2009.
"The concern in Washington has been mounting for some time now. The Trump administration is simply reiterating what has been policy, with slight variations," said Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group. "U.S. special forces are already on the ground. Drone attacks have been scaled up."
Copyright © UPI, 2021. All Rights Reserved.