Ilhan Omar demands Pentagon compensate Somali drone strike victims

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Rep Ilhan Omar joined a growing chorus of elected officials and advocates urging the Pentagon to make amends to a Somali family following an investigation by The Intercept into a 2018 U.S. drone strike that killed a woman and her 4-year-old daughter.

Omar, a Somali American, called on the Pentagon to contact the family of Luul Dahir Mohamed and Mariam Shilow Muse and offer compensation. “To date, the Department of Defense has refused to even respond or acknowledge repeated outreach from Luul and Mariam’s family, much less offer condolence payments,” Omar told The Intercept. “We owe it to the families of victims to acknowledge the truth of what happened, provide the compensation that Congress has repeatedly authorized, and allow independent investigations into these attacks.”

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Omar added that the U.S. drone program is fundamentally flawed and has killed thousands of innocent people over 20 years. “When we say we champion human rights and peace, we should mean it,” she said.

Omar’s call for action follows a similar demand by Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., earlier this month and a December 2023 open letter from two dozen human rights organizations — 14 Somali and 10 international groups — calling on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to compensate the family for the deaths.

The April 1, 2018, attack in Somalia killed at least three, and possibly five, civilians, including Luul and her daughter. A formerly secret U.S. military investigation, obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, acknowledged the deaths of a woman and child in the strike but concluded their identities might never be known. This reporter traveled to Somalia and spoke with seven members of Luul and Mariam’s family. For more than five years, they have tried to contact the U.S. government, including through U.S. Africa Command’s online civilian casualty reporting portalOpens in a new tab, but never received a reply.

Last month, the Defense Department released its long-awaited “Instruction on Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response,” or DoD-I, which established the Pentagon’s “policies, responsibilities, and procedures for mitigating and responding to civilian harm” and directed the militaryOpens in a new tab to “respond to individuals and communities affected by U.S. military operations” including “expressing condolences” and providing so-called ex gratia payments to next of kin.

“Congress appropriates $3 million every year specifically to make payments to civilian victims and survivors of U.S. operations,” Omar said. “However, those funds have never been used in Somalia — despite confirmed civilian deaths there.”

Pentagon spokesperson Lisa Lawrence said that the Defense Department is “committed to mitigating civilian harm” and “responding appropriately if harm occurs” but could not say if Austin even intends to contact Luul and Mariam’s family. “I don’t have that information,” she told The Intercept.

“Thousands of civilians have been killed in unaccountable strikes over the past two decades,” said Omar. “Families around the world live in fear and terror that they or their children will be killed in a drone strike.” She told The Intercept that the “Biden Administration has made commendable progress on civilian harm in our drone program, but this strike and its aftermath is more proof that there is simply no way to conduct the program humanely.”