Somalia: US raids wiped out nomads; Kenya next domino?

Last week’s US air raids in the Lower Juba region of southern Somalia near the Kenyan border, caused heavy civilian casualties, according to local reports. Some of the attacks apparently hit groups of nomadic herdsmen on their way to watering holes. Reports of civilian casualites run as high as 80 dead, with large numbers of cattle, goats and other livestock wiped out as well. Thousands of local residents are said to be fleeing towards the border. But with the border sealed, aid workers from Doctors Without Borders and other groups have been unable to cross into the region from Kenya to assist or verify the claims. The air strikes near the towns of Hagar, Bur Gabo, Banka Jiro, Bada Madow and Ras Kamboni areas are said to have continued for three days. (HornAfrik Radio via BBC Monitoring, Jan. 11)

Oxfam has confirmed at least 70 nomads in the Afmadow district have been killed. The nomads were apparently bombed at night while searching for water sources. The herdsmen had gathered with their animals around large fires to ward off mosquitoes, and were misidentified as a camp sheltering al-Qaeda militants.

“Under international law, there is a duty to distinguish between military and civilian targets,” said Paul Smith-Lomas, Oxfam’s regional director. “We are deeply concerned that this principle is not being adhered to, and that innocent people in Somalia are paying the price.” (The Independent, Jan. 13)

Anger over the raids is growing in the adjacent heavily Muslim region of Kenya. The Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) Kwale District chairman, Sheikh Khamis Banda, joined with Shirikisho Party of Kenya national chairman, Mashengu wa Mwachofi, to protest the air-strikes were not justified.

Banda called on Muslim organizations in Kenya to convene an urgent meeting and discuss the US action on Somalis. “We are also urging Muslim countries to sever diplomatic and trade relations with the US until it stops attacks on Somalia,” he said. “President George Bush is becoming bullish on the entire world. He cannot fight a poor country like Somalia to justify the fight against terrorists. He is in fact encouraging terrorism in the world by oppressing the poor.”

“It is sad and embarrassing that a global giant can descend on peasants, pastoralists and fishermen and kill and destroy them using bombs. Kenya and Ethiopia should not support the US wars,” Mwachofi, a former MP, said. (The Standard, Nairobi, via BBC Monitoring, Jan. 11)

Among those killed in recent violence in Somalia are Kenyan youth who enlisted in the Islamic Courts Union forces to fight the Ethiopian invasion. Kenyan government officials have acknowledged the deaths but remained tight-lipped on the number of local recruits killed in Somalia.

North Eastern provincial commissioner Kiritu Wamae told a news conference at the Liboi border town that authorities had compiled a list of the killed recruits, the majority of whom were Kenyan ethnic Somalis. He called upon the Islamist forces to return the bodies “We want these sheikhs who still deny the reported deaths to show us where the missing boys are, because we have a list of the slain local combatants,” he said.

Wamae also said the total number of Kenyan recruits for the Somali Islamists was more than 4,000, and that surviving recruits who wished to return home from Somalia had been declared persona non grata.

The CIPK and Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims (Supkem) threatened to organize protests after Wamae charged that local Muslim leaders were working as agents of the Somali Islamists. (The Standard, Nairobi, via BBC Monitoring, Jan. 11)

See our last post on Somalia and the horn of Africa, and the destabilization of Kenya.