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Storm brews over civilian deaths in US air strikes in Somalia

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By KEVIN J. KELLEY
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Attacks likely carried out by US drones and piloted gunships have killed at least 14 Somali civilians in the two years since President Donald Trump eased targeting restrictions in Somalia, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

“The attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law, and some may amount to war crimes,” the human rights advocacy group commented in releasing its 73-page report titled The Hidden US War in Somalia.

The Africa Command (Africom), which oversees most US military operations in Somalia, has consistently denied that civilian deaths have resulted from any of the more than 100 airstrikes conducted in the past two years.

Africom says it has confirmed the killings of hundreds of Al-Shabaab militants in those attacks.

RECRUITS
The US is keen to avoid civilian casualties partly because the killing of non-combatants serves to promote recruitment by Al-Shabaab.

But Amnesty International says that it has documented civilian deaths in its research into just five air attacks in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region.

“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests [that] the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smokescreen for impunity,” Brian Castner, an Amnesty expert adviser, said.

“Our findings directly contradict the US military’s mantra of zero civilian casualties in Somalia,” Mr Castner added.

“That claim seems all the more fanciful when you consider the USA has tripled its air strikes across the country since 2016, outstripping their strikes in Libya and Yemen combined.”

SHABAAB WAR

Satellite imagery taken on December 3, 2017 shows a small junction in Lower Shabelle approximately 100 kilometres west of Mogadishu, Somalia. The road passes through a small village, Illimey. On December 6, 2017 an explosion occurred in the hamlet of Illimey, killing five civilians. PHOTO | DIGITAL GLOBE

WAR POLICY
Amnesty is calling for the US and Somalia governments to conduct “urgent and transparent investigations” of the air war in Somalia.

The chances of civilian casualties in air strikes may have increased as a result of President Trump’s March 2017 declaration of Somalia as an “area of active hostilities”, Amnesty suggests.

Retired Brig Gen Donald Bolduc, the head of Special Operations Command Africa from April 2015 to June 2017, told Amnesty researchers that the new US policy allows targets to be deemed lawful solely on the basis of four criteria: age, gender, location and geographic proximity to Shabaab fighters.

“According to General Bolduc, all military-aged males observed with known Al-Shabaab members, inside specific areas — areas in which the US military has deemed the population to be supporting or sympathetic to Al-Shabaab — are now considered legitimate military targets,” the Amnesty report states.

AMISOM
Brig Gen Bolduc’s assertion “does not accurately reflect the targeting standards” of US forces in Somalia, Africom said in response. “Unfortunately,” Africom added, “providing additional detail on this topic would not be possible due to operational security reasons”.

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Amnesty says it has compiled “credible evidence” showing that four of the strikes were carried out by US aircraft and that the fifth was “most plausibly” conducted by the US.

The group notes that Kenya and Ethiopia are the only two members of the African Union Mission in Somalia that operate armed combat aircraft in Somalia.

And Kenyan and Ethiopian warplanes carry out attacks in regions of Somalia other than Lower Shabelle, the report adds.

In one of the incidents recounted by Amnesty, a US drone targeted a suspected Shabaab vehicle traveling between the towns of Awdheegle and Barire on October 16, 2017.

US AIR STRIKES IN SOMALIA

Imagery taken on February 7, 2017 shows the Farah Waeys settlement lying either side of the main road connecting the towns of Awdheegle and Barire in Somalia. On October 16, 2017 a US armed drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected Al-Shabaab fighters. The first strike missed, hitting the Farah Waeys settlement and killing two civilians and injuring five civilians. PHOTO | DIGITAL GLOBE

The report says this strike killed two civilians, but Africom responded that its own assessment of the attack “determined it is not likely to have caused civilian casualties”.

In another case, a US air strike near the village of Darusalaam is said by Amnesty to have to killed three local farmers in the early hours of November 12, 2017.

Africom confirmed that it carried out an air attack in the area at that date and time, and claimed it killed “several” militants.

On December 6, 2017, five civilians, including two children, were killed when a suspected Shabaab lorry exploded as it passed through the hamlet of Illimey on December 6, 2017, the report states.

“While Africom categorically denies having launched the attack on Illimey, there is compelling evidence that an air strike was involved, and a US security agency may be responsible,” Amnesty adds.

WITNESSES
Three Somali civilians and one suspected Shabaab member died in a US drone strike on August 2, 2018, in a rural area near the village of Gobanle, Amnesty reports.

Africom said it did carry out a “precision-guided strike that corresponds to the time and location alleged, targeting individuals who were members of Al-Shabaab.” Claims of civilian deaths are not credible, Africom added.

A farmer was killed in a US air strike near the village of Baladul-Rahma early on December 9, 2018, the report charges.

Africom confirmed to Amnesty that it conducted an attack at that time and place, but did not say whether anyone was known to have died in that strike.

Amnesty says its reporting is partly the product of more than 150 interviews with eyewitnesses and relatives, as well as with expert sources, including some in the US military.

The group adds that it analysed corroborating evidence, such as satellite imagery and munition fragments.

Amnesty points out that security concerns and access restrictions prevented its researchers from conducting on-site investigations of the attacks, which took place in Shabaab-controlled territory.

“The research for this report was conducted from government-controlled areas in-person in Somalia and remotely, from outside of Somalia,” Amnesty states.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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