MOGADISHU, Somalia—It was around five in the morning when Abdullahi Elmi heard the gunfire. Sitting in his small home in Bariire, in southern Somalia, the farm administrator had been recording the names of the laborers who had worked the day before. Stacks of accounting books sprawled on the floor around him. Across the room, his wife sat with their 3-year-old son who dozed as his mother rocked him back and forth in her arms.
When the sound of gunshots began, Abdullahi thought they were too far away to be heading toward his farm. But within seconds they seemed to grow louder, and closer, sending Abdullahi and his wife, carrying their young son, sprinting through the nearby forest of banana trees in search of safety.
Sheltering beneath the long leaves, Abdullahi came across his neighbor, Goomey Hassan, who had also sprinted into the banana grove with his wife when he heard the barrage of gunfire. The two families waited for 20 minutes before they decided it was safe to return, and began walking cautiously back to their homes, both Abdullahi and Goomey careful to walk in front of their wives in case the gunfire returned.
As the women entered their houses, the two men stood outside to see what had happened, eventually spotting Somali National Army soldiers walking in the distance. At first Abdullahi was relieved, the national army must have come to stop their rival clan from attacking their farm, he thought. But as the soldiers saw the men, they raised their weapons, ordering Hassan and Elmi to get down on the ground.
“I put my hands up and they told us you are under arrest, then I heard the noise from their big cars and I knew this was more than just a clan fight,” Elmi said. “They told my wife to go back in our home and then they went inside to search. I was pleading with them not to take anything.”
When the soldiers finished their search, they ordered the men to move with them toward the scene of the shooting. There Abdullahi and Goomey saw their fellow farmers’ bodies sprawled across the ground. The small pot that one of them had been using to make tea still stood upright near the corpses. And they also saw what they later estimated to be around 20 American soldiers standing around the bodies. A Somali National Army soldier who was at the scene estimated 10 to 12 Americans were there. Abdullahi felt his chest tighten as he heard his friend, Ali-waay, calling for help, blood from a gunshot wound pouring into the earth around him.
One of the Somali soldiers ordered Abdullahi to put his head on the ground. The bottom of a boot belonging to an American soldier kept it there.
THE U.S.-LED OPERATION on Aug. 25 would result in the death of 10 civilians, including at least one child, and become the largest stain on U.S. ground operations in the country since the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.
In the operation’s aftermath, hundreds of people in the nearby town Afgoye flooded the city’s streets demanding justice for those killed, and survivors on the farm refused to bury their dead until the Somali government recanted its allegations that they were members Al Shabaab, and offered an apology.
The Daily Beast conducted an investigation into the Bariire operation and its aftermath, interviewing three of the operation’s survivors over the phone from Mogadishu and meeting in person with the Somali National Army Commander in charge of the Somali soldiers who assisted in the operation under the command of soldiers from U.S. Special Operations Forces.
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