By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
JILIB, Somalia – Kenya’s efforts to find members of the hardline Islamic group Al-Shabab went slightly offline on Sunday. During an air raid over Jilib, a coastal town in southern Somalia, a bomb fell on a refugee camp that is home to more than 7,500 people.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders), an aid organization that participates in the camp’s operations, five people, including three children, had died so far and another 45 had been hospitalized due to wounds sustained from shrapnel. Due to the bombing activities, MSF has temporarily withdrawn its staff from the area.
“So today the nutrition clinic and cholera centre are closed,” explained mission leader Gautam Chatterjee. “We will re-open as soon as things are a bit safer for our staff there.”
The strike was aimed at an Al-Shabab camp that was also located in Jilib. Based on intelligence that a senior official was present, several aircraft flew overhead. The refugee camp bombing was an accident due to an errant bomb. Kenya confirmed the attack on the Shabab base, but denied harming the refugee camp.
Major Emmanuel Chirchir, a spokesman for the Kenyan military, said: “We bombed an al-Shabab camp, killed 10 and wounded 47. We are sure about this assessment, no collateral damage, no women, no children.”
Chirchir initially denied claims that the military had bombed the camp.
“MSF is being used by al-Shabab [for propaganda purposes],” he told the BBC program Focus on Africa. The military later admitted that civilian casualties may have been incurred, but not due to the airstrike itself. Instead, a vehicle filled with ammunition and high explosives caught fire during the raid. In trying to escape, the driver brought it into the refugee camp, where it exploded. The resulting blast was deemed the cause of civilian casualties from his perspective.
MSF’s departure is another setback for humanitarian aid in Somalia, a conflict-ravaged East African country that has not had a stable government for more than 20 years. Six areas presently under Al-Shabab control are in a state of famine, as declared by the United Nations. But while the present skirmishes continue, the prospects of delivering much-needed aid are slim.
“The new escalation in fighting and insecurity along the Kenya-Somalia border risks increasing the suffering for civilians already devastated by drought and conflict,” another aid organization, Oxfam, said in a statement it issued last month. “The situation in Somalia is increasingly alarming.”
Al-Shabab has promised reprisals against the invaders.
“Kenya has brutally massacred civilians already displaced by hardship … We will ensure that Kenya mourns more than we did,” said Sheikh Abukar Ali Ada, a regional Al Shabab official. “They cowardly killed around 15 civilians. We will similarly target them and take revenge.”
Though it has some backing from the Somali government, Kenya has no timetable for withdrawal other than saying that it will leave when it feels safe again.
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera — Somali ‘Civilians Killed’ in Kenyan Air Raids — 31 October 2011
BBC — Kenya Air Raid in Somalia Jilib Town ‘Kills Civilians’ — 31 October 2011
Daily Nation — Death Toll in Kenya Raid in Somalia Rises to Five — 31 October 2011
Daily Nation — Kenya, Somalia Seek Support for War on Al Shabaab — 31 October 2011
Garowe Online — Kenyan Air Strike in Somalia ‘Kills Five and Wounds Dozens’ — 31 October 2011
New York Times — Aid Group Says Refugee Camp in Somalia Was Hit by Airstrike — 31 October 2011