How Yemen rescue attempt went wrong

 

United States military and intelligence officials are still piecing together what happened early Saturday that sabotaged an attempt to rescue two hostages from al Qaeda in Yemen.

Despite being ready with a roughly 40-man special operations team and days to plan the operation, U.S. photojournalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korki both died shortly after the midnight raid.

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The key problem, officials told the Wall Street Journal, came when some kind of sound alerted militants who were holding the hostages that the special operations team was nearby. The militants were part of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

It could have been a dog bark or any number of noises, but military officials who spoke to the Journal said the militants suddenly opened fire when troops were about 100 yards away.

The raid’s failure came as a reminder that not all special operations can be as successful as, for example, the one that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. Saturday's rescue bid followed another unsuccessful attempt to free Somers late last month, an operation that led to the southern Yemen compound that ended up being raided Saturday.

After President Obama approved the mission Friday morning, military and intelligence leaders scheduled it for early Saturday, which was about 5 p.m. Friday on the United States’ East Coast.

They believed that al Qaeda would kill Somers later that day. They knew there was another hostage in the compound, but they did not know who until after the operation.

Officials told the Journal that after the team’s cover was blown, a militant ran into the building that they believed housed Somers. The militant likely shot both of them before running out.

The United States team then entered the building, and Somers and Korki were both alive. The hostages were loaded onto a helicopter and brought to a Navy assault ship off Yemen’s coast, the Journal said.

One died on the helicopter and another on the ship, but officials declined to identify which one died when.

No United States troops were injured in the operation, and they believe about six al Qaeda fighters were killed.