A US-Nigerian airstrike on a refugee camp in Nigeria in 2017 killed around 160 people, a new report shows. Among them were children. In Washington, however, no one wants to take responsibility for it.
The US government played a covert role in a military operation in Nigeria in 2017 that killed hundreds of civilians. This emerges from a damning new report that paints a harrowing picture of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) behavior in the region. According to a Freedom of Information Act report, the The Intercept US intelligence was secretly involved in the catastrophic bombing of an IDP camp in Nigeria, killing more than 160 civilians, most of them children.
The bombing took place in January 2017 at the camp in the Nigerian town of Rann, near the Cameroonian and Chadian borders, which housed 43,000 people and was controlled by the Nigerian army. At least 35 buildings, including shelters for war victims, were destroyed, nine aid workers were killed and more than 120 people were critically injured.
According to survivors of the attack, a surveillance plane flew over the camp before another plane bombed the area where residents were drawing water from a well. The jet then circled and dropped another bomb on the refugees’ tents, decimating the entire camp.
Dubbed the “US-Nigerian operation,” the attack was carried out under the guise of a counterinsurgency campaign against Islamist militia Boko Haram. In a statement a day after the attack, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) regretted the conduct of the airstrike, stating that “the location was not listed as a humanitarian base on the operational map. Therefore, it appeared as a site that could also be used for hostile activity,” said Maj. Gen. John Enenche, Nigeria’s director of defense intelligence.
Nigerian human rights organizations and activists wondered how the military could not have known about the camp, accusing the NAF of a cover-up as the refugees’ tents were fully visible from the air, according to satellite images. A year after the attack, human rights lawyer Femi Falana called on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to compensate the victims of the airstrike.
The Intercept’s report reveals that the US government was clandestinely providing intelligence information or other assistance such as background information to the Nigerian military prior to the bombing of the area. “They will collect and retain all background information relevant to a full understanding of US-Nigerian operations such as this attack,” the document said.
According to the document obtained by The Intercept, just days after the attack, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) secretly commissioned Brigadier General Frank J. Stokes, deputy director of the Directorate for Strategy, Engagement and Programs, to conduct a “ Investigation to determine the facts and circumstances of a kinetic airstrike by Nigerian forces in and around Rann, Nigeria”. However, the results of the investigation were never published.
“The civilian casualties, as well as the American and Nigerian public, deserve answers as to what role the US played in this devastating attack”, said Annie Shiel, senior adviser for the United States at the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC). “What exactly was the involvement of the United States? What were the findings of the investigation – including findings of wrongdoing – and what kind of responsibility does the US accept for the serious damage caused?”
“As the US continues to expand its security assistance to Nigeria…we also need much more transparency into what steps have been taken to prevent and respond to civilian damage using US assistance,” Shiel said, adding that Congress should ask for clarifications from the military authorities. According to Judith Bello, a senior member of the United National Antiwar Movement, the American authorities who called for the airstrikes “do not care” about the deaths of civilians “because they want the war to continue.”
Stokes’ mandate included an investigation into how the US exchanges information with the Nigerian military, as well as “procedures for post-deployment reporting when the information exchanged is used in an attack (e.g., reports evaluating the battle damage). However, he was denied access to any information about individuals or organizations involved in this attack.”
“You have no authority to obtain potentially incriminating evidence from service members, U.S. civilian employees, employees of contractors supporting U.S. operations, or foreign military personnel,” its mandate reads. AFRICOM was “not involved” in the bombing of the camp, spokesman Kelly Cahalan said, adding that clandestine operations can be conducted by the CIA or by special forces within their own chain of command.
According to special research for Nigerian newspaper The Cable, regional military commander General Lucky Irabor (now Nigeria’s defense chief) “admitted that he ordered the attacks in Rann based on the intelligence information received”. The report cited a “senior military source” who said the intelligence was obtained from “one of the powerful countries in the West”.
US uses drone base and “torture center” in Cameroon
It is worth noting that US surveillance and intelligence equipment such as Predator drones, Global Hawks and turboprop aircraft have been regularly deployed over Nigeria and the Chadian border. In 2017, The Intercept, in another damning report, uncovered the existence of a “drone base” and “torture center” used by US contractors in Salak, Cameroon, in the northern border region between Nigeria and Chad.
The US drone program was originally instituted by George W. Bush to support his so-called “war on terror.” His successors have significantly increased the number of drone strikes in distant lands. Since the program began, US officials have claimed that the strikes were aimed at terrorists and resulted in fewer civilian casualties. However, numerous reports in recent years indicate that the overwhelming majority of those killed in these attacks were civilians.