US military denies killing Cuban doctors in airstrike

Assel Herrera and Landy Rodriguez

Cuban doctors Assel Herera Correa (left), a general physician, and Landy Rodriguez, a surgeon.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The airstrike was conducted on February 15, 2024 within Jilib town, Southern Somalia.
  • A police officer who was escorting the doctors was killed in the attack that led to the abduction. 

The United States military has denied allegations by Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia that the two Cuban doctors under their captivity, were killed in an airstrike in February.

The two doctors, Assel Herrera and Landy Rodriguez, were abducted on April 12, 2019 in a brazen attack in Mandera town. 

The airstrike was conducted on February 15, 2024 within Jilib town, Southern Somalia.

The US Africa Command in its latest quarterly report admitted they carried out an airstrike but denied killing the two doctors.

Immediately after the airstrike, the Al-Shabaab group announced that the two medics were killed by the US army.

“On February 17, 2024, the command received one report from an online media source stating two civilians were killed as a result of a US military operation in the vicinity of Jilib, Somalia on February 15,” read the report. 

The US Africa Command said it reviewed the available information and in its assessment, the airstrike did not result in civilian harm.

A police officer who was escorting the doctors was killed in the attack that led to the abduction. 

The doctors were in a government vehicle on their way to the hospital where they worked when they were taken hostage. 

Herrera, was a specialist in general medicine and Rodriguez, a surgeon.

Cuba and Kenya had an agreement to bring in Cuban doctors to help implement universal healthcare coverage and sort out issue of shortage of medics.

The US Africa Command also said it has completed assessments of the alleged airstrikes in Galhareeri in Galmadug State that occurred in January and February. It denied carrying out an operation in the two towns.

US Africa Command takes all reports of possible civilian harm seriously and has a process to conduct thorough reviews and assessments using all available information,” the assessment said.

It added: “The command remains committed to reviewing and assessing any reports of civilian harm.” 

The US has supported the Somalia government with airstrikes against the Al-Shabaab and has been providing military training for government troops.

Immediately after the airstrike, the Al-Qaeda affiliate group announced that a US drone struck a house in Jilib, killing the two doctors. It went ahead to share pictures of the dead alleging the bodies were of the two doctors.

Ms Lennea Montandon, a spokeswoman for the US Africa Command then told the press they were assessing the results of their operation.

She said there was no credible evidence that there were any civilian casualties in the strike but they would continue to investigate the allegation by the Al-Shabaab.

Immediately after the news of the killing of the two doctors made headlines, Cuba’s parliament speaker Esteban Lazo arrived in Nairobi, to engage in urgent procedures with the highest authorities in Kenya in “searching for cooperation and clarification” on the possible deaths of the two doctors.

Both Nairobi and Havana have kept the news about the two doctors well-guarded as both chose to remain mum on the issue.

Kenya had attempted to use the Somali clan elders in freeing the two doctors but it was reported the militants bolted out of the negotiations and chose to have the two treat the injured militants.