With frequent statements in the press about the success of airstrikes against ‘militants’ in Somalia and other countries, how much do we really know about who these victims are?
Earlier this month, the US military issued a statement saying that it had conducted two airstrikes in Somalia, killing at least 12 "militants". At the time, US authorities assessed that no civilians were injured or killed in either airstrike. It wasn’t the first time that American authorities expected outside observers or Somalis to accept their narrative.
On January 18, the military published a similar statement saying that it conducted an airstrike in Somalia and killed fifty-two "militants". Similarly, it pointed out that "no civilians were injured or killed" and that they would continue combating Al Shabab extremists in the country. According to a statement from January 3, another "precision airstrike" took place in the country's Hiran Region and killed 24 "militants".
"Precision strikes are part of our strategy. Strikes continue to help our partners make progress in the fight against the transnational terrorists who oppose peace in Somalia and in the region", the statement said. On February 1, another strike took place in the Lower Shabelle Region. According to US Africa Command (AFRICOM), another 13 "Al Shabab fighters" were killed.
In total, within a month, more than 100 people were killed by the US military in Somalia. And let's be honest: we don't know anything about them. We just know that they were bombed to death, and that the rest of the world did not really care about a single one of them.
Since 2001, US AFRICOM, based in Stuttgart, Germany, has been involved in Somalia and several other countries in the region. Airstrikes, mostly conducted by Predator and Reaper drones, are taking place regularly, and like in other countries around the globe, many civilians have been killed in these operations.
Civilians we barely hear about.
A crucial reason for that is the flawed media coverage when it comes to the American “War on Terror”. Many international media outlets reported about the recent strikes. "Dozens of Al Shabab fighters killed in airstrike", wrote the UK-based Guardian. "American Airstrike in Somalia Kills 52 Shabab Extremists, US Military Says", according to the New York Times. "US military says airstrike kills more than 50 terrorists in Somalia", CNN reported, and the list goes on.
However, the truth is that such reports reflect anything but actual coverage of the events. Instead, newsmakers just adopt the narrative of the US government and decide to spread it without scrutinising it, and this is not the first time.
The "officials say" style of journalism has become part of our daily lives for years, whether in Somalia or in any other country the US military or the CIA is involved. Drone strikes killed some people in Yemen? They were terrorists. Brutal American-backed militias raided some houses and killed Afghans and their family members? Of course, they were terrorists too.
Why? Because the White House or the Pentagon said so. Spreading solely the US view has nothing to do with journalism, it's just propaganda. And unfortunately, even some of the best news agencies in the world continue to do it.
Apart from the fact that in many of these cases reporters or human rights activists are rarely on the ground to investigate what happened, it should also be noted what kind of people are considered as "militants" by the US administration.
As the New York Times reported in much detail in 2012, Washington defines every "military-aged male" ("MAM") in a strike zone as an "enemy combatant" until the opposite is proven. This practice is being applied from Somalia to Afghanistan, every day and after literally every strike.
In fact, drone operators are often keen to adapt it in moments in which they are not sure whom they are observing. When the Los Angeles Times published a full transcript of an aerial operation in Afghanistan that killed between 27 and 33 civilians in February 2010, the full scale of the dehumanisation was revealed.
According to the script, which is the only one that has been shared with public until today, drone operators immediately identified their targets as "MAMs". In the case of children, they suggested that, in Afghanistan, children could quickly turn into "enemy combatants", so it's necessary to wipe them out.
In the end, everyone is fair game.
In fact, these things should be noted in every report about the topic. Everything else is totally misleading about the realities on the ground. But most media consumers have never heard about "MAMs" and other dehumanisation tools of the American "War on Terror".
During the last few years, several journalists have revealed that civilian casualties as a result of US air strikes in Somalia are taking place regularly. In a recent investigation with The Nation, journalist Amanda Sperber describes the killings of several civilians, including three young boys. These innocent Somali boys were described as "terrorists" by AFRICOM last May.
And like in many other places, the situation in Somalia has worsened since Donald Trump took over the White House. "Since Donald Trump took office, the US military has approximately tripled the number of strikes that it conducts each year in Somalia, according to figures confirmed by the Pentagon, while such actions – and the reasons behind them – have become increasingly opaque," Sperber writes.
However, until today, such journalism has become a rare exception, not just in Somalia, but also in other countries that are haunted by these wars. In fact, Washington's narrative has won. It's their "truth" that is circulated in most newsrooms, and the results of this kind of "officials say" style of journalism is fake news. Awareness does not exist. We just kill terrorists. Every day.
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