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Understanding the risks of rescuing hostages – Part 2

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    We explore the questions raised in the raid with Brian Jenkins. He's a terrorism and security expert who has advised in hostage negotiations. He's a senior adviser at the RAND Corporation.

    Brian Jenkins, thank you for joining us. As we just heard, the U.S. — U.S. officials are saying they had no choice but to go after these hostages, that the life of Luke Somers was in danger. How would you have assessed the threat here?

  • BRIAN JENKINS, RAND Corporation:

    Well, I think we have certainly seen numerous examples where al-Qaida, its affiliates or the Islamic State have murdered their hostages in these gruesome videos that we have seen. There's a higher incidence of that.

    So the threat of death has to be taken — has to be taken seriously. A rescue operation is always going to be a high-risk endeavor. It's high-risk for the rescuers. It's high-risk for the hostages.


    Well, I ask about this because, as I'm sure you have seen, Luke Somers' family is saying he would be alive if the rescue attempt had not been made.


    You know, that's something I certainly cannot say.

    I mean, as I say, we have seen one American after another murdered by their captors. If there had been no rescue attempt, then there would be criticisms because the United States had not made an effort to rescue a hostage, and if that hostage were subsequently — subsequently killed.

    Keep in mind, you know, there have been — just taking a quick count of some of the recent hostage rescue attempts that have been made by either American, British or French commandos in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, we have got about 19 of those tries; 14 of them resulted in freeing at least some of the hostages. Five were failures.

    Hostage rescues can fail either because the situation has changed and the hostage is not where the intelligence had reported, or they fail because the hostages are killed in a gunfight.

    Out of a total of 40 — out of a total of 41 hostages involved in those cases, nine were killed, and 32 were rescued. And so that says, look, it's about a 20 percent chance of being killed in these operations.


    Since the U.S. has made it very clear it doesn't negotiate with hostage-takers, doesn't even consider paying ransom, what other — what are the options? Are there any other options?


    The options are either simply to stand by, do nothing, and hope that the captors will respond to humanitarian appeals and release their captives, or that some other government that may have some greater influence over the captors will persuade them to do so.

    We haven't had a great deal of success in that happening lately. Or the alternative is to attempt a rescue, as we have seen in a number of cases.


    Well, you just pointed out what the — at least what the most recent statistics are. But give us a sense of just how difficult a rescue attempt like this one is.


    You know, as I say, they're going to be a long shot, and if you look at — over — over the period of time, hostages are killed in a variety of ways.

    The hostages may be killed during the initial abduction, attempting to resist. A hostage may be killed while attempting to escape his or her captors. A hostage may be murdered in cold blood by their captors, or a hostage may be killed during the course of the rescue.

    Of those hostages who are killed, not of all the hostages, but of those who are killed, then about 80 percent of them are killed during the rescue. But what we have seen in recent years, particularly with hostages falling into the hands of these jihadist groups, is a greater willingness on the part of those hostage-takers to murder their captives, and especially in the case of American or British captives.


    Which makes — it makes this a much more difficult set of options for the U.S. to consider.

    Brian Jenkins, we thank you very much.


    Thank you.

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