IN WHAT APPEARS to be tragic efforts at communicating the aftermath of a military operation Thursday, the government pulled down statements from the Presidency, Foreign Affairs and Information Ministries in a span of few hours after it emerged the veracity of information purveyed to the public was questionable.
It was not clear if the government had an actual grasp of what exactly happened in Barire in the wee hours of Thursday. Information Minister Abdirahman Osman Yarisow issued the first statement on Friday afternoon indicating that those killed in the operation were Al-Shabaab militants.
“The Somali National Army, under the direction of Chief of Defense Forces Genera Ahmed Mohamed Jimaale, and our international partners conducted a security operation early on August 25 near Barire, Lower Shabelle that resulted on the deaths of eight Al-Shabaab terrorists.”
No civilians harmed
No civilians were harmed in the operation, the minister said. The minister went ahead to quote the Somali Army 20th brigade commander General Sheegow in which the army commander acknowledged the operation ‘against a farm in Barire with known Al-Shabaab presence’.
Even as the government sought to provide a clear picture of events, bodies of the victims of the operation were paraded in Mogadishu with families claiming their kin were innocent and fell victim of a military operation. Reports quoting Lower Shabelle officials pointed finger at the American private security firm Bancroft operatives. Bancroft which provides support to Amisom and Somali Special Forces, Danab, has since denied any involvement in the operation.
Defense minister Abdullahi Mohamed later told the media security forces confronted armed men who refused to surrender their weapons leading to exchange of fire.
“While in operation, the military today met with armed men, requested them to lay down their weapons but they refused to do so and firing started. That is how the shooting started and the men died on the scene and the arms taken from them. The question we ask ourselves is: Armed men living in the vicinity of Al-Shabaab can be who? This operation will be investigated but they were armed men.”
Information Minister Yarisow filed another public statement hours later offering a correction of the earlier statement. The minister said it had been established there were civilian casualties. “We also understand that there are civilian casualties in which the Federal Government is investigating to find out the truth about this matter.”
With this, Villa Somalia through its Facebook page offered its condolences to the families of those killed in the operation seemingly affirming those killed were civilians. “I offer my condolences to the families of those killed in Barire. We are investigating the matter,” the statement from President Mohamed Farmaajo’s page read.
Foreign Affairs minister Yusuf Garaad too weighed in from Mozambique.
“It seems that two different operations took place in Barire in which one of them was executed by the Somali National Army as said by the Ministry of Information. The government is investigating the other one which civilians were killed,” said Garaad.
The African Command (Africom) which is in charge of US military operations also pointed to a possibility of civilian casualties in the operation. “We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Barire. We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.”
Statements pulled down
By Friday evening, the narrative seemed to be building on a consensus even as Somalis in the social media questioned the government’s handling of the matter. In one fell swoop, the government ‘erased’ its footprints online pulling down Facebook posts but not before keen netizens grabbed screen shots.
“The Federal government is doing real investigation in relation to the incident of Bariire location and will share with the public the actual information,” Minister Yarisow concluded the day.
Somali National Army chief Genera Ahmed Mohamed Jimaale told the media Saturday morning civilians were indeed killed during the operations.
“Civilians died in the place; 10 of them including children and old men. These people were not A-Shabaab but civilian farmers. However, this problem happened by mistake and not a deliberate one. People say Al-Shabaab were attacked and killed but there is nothing like that,” the army chief delivered the last line in a media interview with VOA Somali service.