Armed Conflict Foreign Relations & International Law

The Lawfare Podcast: Anatomy of a Somali Drone Strike with Nick Turse

Tyler McBrien, Nick Turse, Jen Patja
Monday, November 13, 2023, 8:00 AM
Nick Turse joins Tyler McBrien to discuss his recent article on a March 2018 airstrike and the Pentagon investigation that followed.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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In August, the U.S. Africa Command, aka AFRICOM, reported that it had killed 13 al-Shabaab fighters in southern Somalia. Though the U.S. government said that it did not kill any civilians this time around, several past airstrikes have claimed innocent lives. In one notable example from March 2018, U.S. drone operators killed a 22-year-old mother, Lul Dahir Mohamed, and her 4-year-old daughter, Mariam, as they hitched a ride in a pickup truck with suspected militants.  

In a recently published article for The Intercept, Nick Turse offers an unprecedented account of the March 2018 strike, thanks to his reporting in Mogadishu and a secret Pentagon investigation he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. As Nick writes, “This is a story about misconnections, flawed intelligence, and fatal blindness. It started with bad cell service and ended with an American missile obliterating civilians the U.S. didn't intend to kill, but didn't care enough to save.”  

Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien sat down with Nick, contributing writer at The Intercept, to discuss his piece, a post mortem of that fatal drone strike, and the wider context of AFRICOM's drone war across the region from the Obama administration through the present day. They also discussed why this special operations strike cell “seemed like they did everything wrong,” according to one American drone pilot who worked in Somalia.

Please note that this episode contains content that some people may find disturbing, including graphic depictions of deadly drone strikes. Listener discretion is advised.

Tyler McBrien is the managing editor of Lawfare. He previously worked as an editor with the Council on Foreign Relations and a Princeton in Africa Fellow with Equal Education in South Africa, and holds an MA in international relations from the University of Chicago.
Nick Turse is a contributing writer for The Intercept, reporting on national security and foreign policy.
Jen Patja is the editor and producer of The Lawfare Podcast and Rational Security. She currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of Virginia Civics, a nonprofit organization that empowers the next generation of leaders in Virginia by promoting constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement. She is the former Deputy Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and has been a freelance editor for over 20 years.

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