MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Ten civilians, including three children, were killed in a raid by foreign and Somali forces on a farm in southern Somalia, a deputy governor said Friday, as the U.S. military confirmed it supported a counter-terror operation in the area and said it would look into the allegations.
The deaths raise questions about growing U.S. military involvement in the Horn of Africa nation after President Donald Trump approved expanded operations against the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab, often in support of Somali forces.
The farmers were killed "one by one" after soldiers stormed into Barire village early Friday, the deputy governor of Lower Shabelle region, Ali Nur Mohamed, told reporters in the capital, Mogadishu, as victims' bloodied bodies were on display.
Somalia's information ministry at first said al-Shabab extremists were killed but later noted "civilian casualties," adding that it appeared more than one security operation had taken place.
Three children aged 8 to 10 and a woman were among the dead, the deputy governor said. Their blanket-wrapped bodies were laid out in a grassy courtyard. Bodies of civilians, especially those killed in misdirected attacks, often are taken from remote areas to Mogadishu to draw media attention.
"These local farmers were attacked by foreign troops while looking after their crops," Mohamed told reporters. "The troops could have arrested them because they were unarmed but instead shot them one by one mercilessly."
The U.S. Africa Command confirmed that U.S. forces were supporting the Somalia National Army while it conducted an operation in the area but gave no details.
"We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Barire, Somalia. 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," the U.S. said in a statement.
Somalia's information ministry at first said the raid killed eight al-Shabab fighters and that the extremists began shooting at Somali forces, adding that "no civilians were harmed or killed." A later, corrected statement said "it appears that there were different security operations" in the area.
Al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, holds vast areas of rural Somalia after being chased out of major cities in recent years by a multinational African Union force and Somali forces. The group continues to threaten the fragile central government and carry out deadly attacks in neighboring countries, notably Kenya.
Earlier this year, Trump approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab, including more aggressive airstrikes and considering parts of southern Somalia areas of active hostilities.
The U.S. and Somalia in recent weeks said strikes have killed al-Shabab leaders responsible for planning and executing deadly attacks in Mogadishu, where high-profile areas such as hotels and military checkpoints are often targeted with deadly bombings.
Associated Press videographer Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Mogadishu contributed.