How Many People Does the U.S. Assess it Killed in Somalia in 2023?

We Now Know
Blog Post
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer William D. Crow
April 2, 2024

On April 2, 2024, in response to an inquiry from New America, AFRICOM provided its assessment of the death toll of a December 20, 2023 U.S. strike in the vicinity of Yaq Dabel, Somalia, saying the strike killed two “al-Shabaab terrorists.” The response filled in the last instance in which the United States had confirmed that it conducted a strike in Somalia in 2023 but had not provided an assessed death toll (either via a press release or in response to New America’s inquiries).

With the assessed death toll of the December 20 strike in Yaq Dabel now known, we have a complete record of the number of strikes the United States acknowledges conducting in Somalia in 2023 and their assessed death tolls. We can therefore calculate the total U.S. assessed death toll of those strikes.

The U.S. assessed that it killed a total of 120 people over the course of 18 air strikes and one ground operation in Somalia in 2023. The current U.S. assessment is that it killed no civilians in 2023.

The average U.S. strike (or operation) in 2023 killed just over six people. The deadliest strike occurred at the beginning of the year on January 20, 2023, when a U.S. strike occurred “near Galcad, Somalia where Somalia National Army forces were engaged in heavy fighting following a complex, extended, intense attack by more than 100 al-Shabaab fighters” and in response to the complex al-Shabaab attack. However, it is possible that the high death toll includes al-Shabaab fighters killed in the fighting but not by the strike. The press release states, “combined actions by partner forces on the ground and the collective self-defense strike is estimated to have resulted in three destroyed vehicles and approximately thirty al-Shabaab terrorists killed.”

The lowest death toll of a U.S. strike or operation in 2023 was zero. The U.S. assessed that it killed nobody in two strikes in 2023. The first time in a May 20, 2023 strike in Jilib, which appeared to be an attempt to target an al-Shabaab leader, identified by reporting as Osman Mohamed Abdi, a veteran al-Shabaab commander involved in attacks in Kenya. The strike appears to have only injured the targeted leader. LCDR Timothy S. Pietrack, an AFRICOM spokesman, told New America in a May 23 email that AFRICOM “assesses that one al-Shabaab leader was injured as a result of the operation.”

The second strike in which the U.S. assessed it killed nobody occurred on May 26 “in the vicinity of the ATMIS forward operating base, FOB Bulo Marer.” This strike followed a complex attack on the base, and appears to have been focused on destroying heavy weapons and equipment that al-Shabaab fighters were carting away from the attack.

Note: Counting strikes is difficult due to unclear and at times changing definitions of what constitutes a strike. For the purpose of this analysis, I have relied upon AFRICOM’s self reporting of the number of strikes in its press releases. AFRICOM confirmed to me on January 18, that it conducted 18 strikes in 2023 in Somalia. For ease of reference, I refer to the counterterrorism operation on January 25 that killed Bilal al-Sudani as a strike. The government has acknowledged conducting that operation, but does not define it as a strike. It is worth noting that on January 25, AFRICOM released a statement declaring one strike consisting of two “engagements.” For this analysis, I have followed AFRICOM in treating the two engagements as one strike. Death tolls are derived from a combination of the press releases and AFRICOM’s responses to New America’s inquiries and only reflect AFRICOM's stated assessments.