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US lawmakers seek answers on Pentagon’s secret role in deadly strike in Nigeria

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This picture shows the camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Rann, Nigeria. (File photo)

US lawmakers have extended an investigation about the military’s role in a deadly 2017 airstrike in Nigeria that killed more than 160 civilians to include questions to the Pentagon chief. 

A group of lawmakers, who constitute the Protection of Civilians in Conflict Caucus, extended the probe on Thursday to include questions to US Department of Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin.

Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.),  Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and Tom Malinowski (also D-N.J.) called on Austin to disclose information regarding the US military’s role in the airstrike, which mostly killed children, and hand over classified documents about the operation.

Those slain in the attack were internally displaced persons (IDPs) at a refugee camp located in Rann, Nigeria, near the Cameroonian and Chadian borders. The refugee camp housed 43,000 people and was under the control of the Nigerian army.

The airstrike, branded as a “US-Nigeria operation,” was carried out under the pretext of a counterinsurgency operation targeting the armed group Boko Haram.

The caucus, which was formed to provide oversight of the Pentagon operations and advance policies that prevent and respond to civilian casualties from US military strikes, said in a letter addressed to Austin that given “your recent commitments to transparently responding to civilian harm, we request that the Department make available the investigation and all accompanying documentation to Members of the House Armed Services Committee.”

The group set a three-month deadline for Austin to turn over the documents.

“Congress has a critical role to play in ensuring that the United States prevents, mitigates, and responds to civilian harm with transparency and accountability, and that includes harm committed when working by, with and through partners,” said Annie Shiel, the senior adviser for US policy and advocacy at the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

“Given that AFRICOM [the US Africa Command] has apparently investigated the strike already, I hope the Defense Department will respond transparently to this inquiry, and to the demands of civil society groups, by publicly releasing the investigation and acknowledging any US role in the strike and its impact.”

Back in July, The Intercept revealed that the US government played a secret role in the deadly 2017 military operation, painting a harrowing picture of US Africa Command’s conduct in the region.

The bombardment led to the destruction of at least 35 structures, including shelters for war victims, besides killing nine aid workers and critically wounding over 120 people.

According to survivors of the attack, a surveillance plane flew over the camp, before another plane bombed the area where the population drew water from a well. The jet then circled and dropped another bomb on the refugees’ tents, decimating the whole camp.

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