Not even a global pandemic can slow the incessant death toll of innocents at the hand of America’s insatiable military machine.
While the world’s attention has been preoccupied with the coronavirus crisis, the United States has quietly been raining death and destruction upon some of the world’s poorest people. Despite the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global coronavirus armistice, the Trump administration has conducted more airstrikes on Somalia this year than the administrations of Bush and Obama combined, according to TIME’s Nick Turse, killing dozens of innocent civilians. 43 airstrikes have been conducted so far this year and 63 were launched last year.
The bombings are part of the interminable fight against the al-Shabaab terror group, which still controls large swathes of the Somali countryside in spite of years of airstrikes and billions of taxpayer dollars in military assistance to the Somali government. A State Department report admits that despite everything we’ve thrown at them, al-Shabab has “maintained its capability to conduct hit-and-run attacks, ambushes, and improvised explosive device (IED) operations and ‘remains adaptive, resilient, and capable of attacking U.S. partner interests in Somalia and East Africa.'”
How many civilians have been killed in those bombings is unknown, because Trump’s U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) hasn’t lifted a finger to find out. Apparently sharing the President’s utter contempt for the civilians they are ostensibly fighting to protect, AFRICOM hasn’t conducted a single interview with civilian witnesses of their bombings, which occur every two to three days, nor have they paid any compensation at all to the surviving families of airstrike victims. “We have not interviewed any witnesses or victims,” said an AFRICOM spokesman to TIME.
In 13 years of war, AFRICOM has only admitted to killing five civilians, but monitoring agency AirWars contends that as many as 15 people have been killed this year alone and that up to 145 Somali civilians have died in US airstrikes since 2007.
The current commander of AFRICOM, Stephen Townshend, previously commanded Operation Inherent Resolve-Joint Task Force, the bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. While Townshend bragged that the coalition conducted the most “precise” bombing campaign in history, it is believed to have killed a staggering 13,000 innocent civilians, though the United States has only admitted to 1,400 deaths.
That is likely because Townsend’s coalition didn’t bother to keep track, like his forces are again doing in Somalia. New York Times Magazine reporters discovered “a consistent failure by the [OIH-JTF] coalition to investigate claims [of civilian death] properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all.”
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. military’s approach of performative regret towards civilian casualties has become one of open hostility and indiscriminate murder. The administration’s loose rules of engagement and aggressive bombing campaigns has earned us the appalling distinction of having killed more civilians in Afghanistan last year than the Taliban did.
While it’s understandable that the nation’s attention is fixated on the COVID-19 crisis and the president’s efforts to sabotage the Post Office, it is imperative that we as a nation keep ourselves informed as to what the President and the Pentagon are doing with our tax dollars on foreign battlefields — and hold them accountable for the endless reaping of innocent lives that accompany it. If we are serious about making sure that Black lives matter, then we must value the lives of Somalis living in terrorist-controlled countryside as much as we value the lives of Black Americans here at home.
Given that we have been conducting these bombing campaigns in Somalia and Afghanistan for over a decade with almost nothing to show for it, we must demand that our next president reconsider whether exorbitantly expensive and deadly airstrikes are really the best approach to counterterrorism.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.