Turkish drone kills 22 civilians in Somalia in failed counterterrorism operation

On the evening of March 18, airstrikes carried out by drones operated by Turkish troops stationed in Somalia killed 22 civilians, including children, in a small village on the outskirts of Afgoye district in Lower Shabelle.

Among the victims, there were mainly women, young children and the elderly. In addition to the 22 deaths, 21 people were injured in this attack and taken to Medina hospital, some suffering serious injuries.

Relatives of the victims told media that members of an entire family that had recently escaped fighting in Basra and Jambalul had been massacred in this village called Baqdaad where they thought they were finding refuge.

The attack took place in the evening while residents were praying Tarawih in a mosque, which is why so many people were massacred. Furthermore, three successive missile attacks decimated villagers who came to help the wounded.

Victim of faulty intelligence

On the same day, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) indicated that it had neutralized around thirty Al-Shabab militants in the same region, without specifying the exact location. But it turned out that it was the same locality.

Indeed, the Somali intelligence agency had requested an air coverage from the Turkish base in Mogadishu and shared intelligence of what it considered a hideout of extremist Al-Shabab fighters.

According to our sources, the Turksom command was furious at being easily misled by an organization infamous for its blunders and appalling human rights record since Mahad Salad, a divisive politician, was appointed to lead it to purge key executives deemed loyal to the previous administration.

The Turks have much to learn from the Americans. Since they work closely with the Danab elite forces that they trained and still under their supervision, they have reduced horrendous collateral damage decried by human rights organizations. Only Danab can request US drones airstrikes.

The Turks had also trained and equipped the elite Gorgor troops at the Turksom base in Mogadishu and Turkey, but left them at the mercy of a government with notorious mismanagement of security.

Gorgor, which had its heyday under the previous administration, was dismembered, dispersed and subordinated to NISA director. Many of its members were either decimated by Al-Shabab or deserted as a result.

Government unmoved by high civilians death

So far, the Somali government has not released any information about civilians being bombed in some areas of the Lower Shabelle region.

This is not the first time that airstrikes undertaken by countries operating in Somalia have caused damage to the civilian population. American drones and other Kenyan combat aircraft have particularly decimated hundreds of Somalis in recent years.

However, the Baqdaad village massacre stands out from other previous strikes because Turkish drones were involved in the highest civilian casualty toll in recent years.

Additionally, the botched operation failed to eliminate a single Al-Shabab fighter. We therefore cannot speak of collateral damage since NISA is unable to corroborate its claim that Al-Shabab fighters were among the casualties.

On the other hand, the guilty silence of the government says a lot about the lack of concern for its civilian population, often caught under fire from Al-Shabab insurgents, security forces and foreign drones.

Worse still, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud personally asked the Americans to expand the range of drone strikes and relax their rules of engagement which included minimizing the number of civilians in areas infested by Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab extremists.

In this context, coupled with a non-existent independent justice system, it is unlikely that those who provided erroneous intelligence or those who used the drones will be held accountable for their actions.