Nigeria military acknowledges mistake in accidental bombing of a refugee camp

At least 76 people were killed in Tuesday's accidental Nigerian Air Force strike on a refugee camp as aid workers scramble to help more than 100 wounded.

Medecins Sans Frontieres/AP
Smoke rises from a burnt out shelter at a camp for displaced people in Rann, Nigeria, on Tuesday Jan. 17, 2017. Relief volunteers are believed to be among the more than 100 dead after a Nigerian Air Force jet fighter mistakenly bombed the refugee camp, while on a mission against Boko Haram extremists.

Nigeria’s accidental bombing of a refugee camp on Tuesday has put a spotlight on the struggles this African nation faces as it continues its fight against Islamic militants. 

The strike, which initially intended to target Boko Haram extremists, mistakenly killed at least 76 civilians, and left at least 46 “severely injured,” in a refugee camp. The Nigerian military has faced much criticism from multiple international organizations as they acknowledged making such a mistake for the first time.

The camp, which was set up by the United Nations in March in Rann, Borno state in a remote northeast region near the border with Cameroon, hosts 43,000 people who have fled Boko Haram. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement Wednesday that he was shocked to learn about the news. 

“This has been a truly catastrophic event. Lives have been lost, and this in a designated site for the displaced,” Mr. Grandi said. “A full accounting has to take place so that the causes are known and measures can be put in place to ensure this never happens again.”

Various sources have provided different accounts of the number of casualties, as neither the Nigeria Air Force nor the government have provided any official count. 

The International Committee for the Red Cross estimated the death toll is at least 76 people, including six Nigeria Red Cross volunteers, and more than 100 people injured. The aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said 52 people died and 120 were wounded from this air strike. Nigerian government officials told the Associated Press that more than 100 people, including refugees and aid workers, were killed.

The Red Cross said at least 90 patients remained in Rann, the epicenter of the area where the extremist group had attempted to change into an Islamic caliphate in the northeast for the past seven years.

While Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said recently they have crushed the militant group and driven it out of its strongholds, the strike followed several weeks of military offense against the group. 

The massive civilian death tolls caused by the Nigeria Air Force’s strike, however, was seen as the first time that the officials acknowledged making such a mistake. 

Using air power in this late phase of a counterinsurgency is ham-fisted,” said Matthew Page, a consultant who until recently was the State Department’s top expert on Nigeria, to The New York Times. “The Nigerian government would be wise to use carefully targeted, intelligence-driven operations, not aerial bombing campaigns, to mop up what’s left of Boko Haram.”

In the region where the military continues to combat the Islamic extremists, who have killed more than 20,000 people and forcibly displaced 2.6 million, villagers have reported civilian casualties in near-daily bombings.

“The accidental bombing is not a true reflection of the level of professionalism,” said Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, according to Reuters. 

This story includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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