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Why did the raid in Yemen to rescue Luke Somers go so wrong?

U.S. special forces tried to rescue photojournalist Luke Somers from al-Qaida militants on Saturday, but the kidnappers shot Somers and another hostage, South African teacher Pierre Korkie, before the soldiers could get to them. Both hostages died. Adam Entous of the Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington to discuss the failed mission.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We're learning more about that failed hostage rescue attempt in Southern Yemen.

    U.S. special forces tried to free photojournalist Luke Somers from Al Qaeda militants yesterday, but the kidnappers fatally shot Somers and another hostage, South African teacher Pierre Korkie, just before the commandos could get to them.

    The BBC reports that the U.S. Special Forces didn't know Korkie was being held there. A charity working on Korkie's release says he was set to be freed today.

    I'm joined now by reporter Adam Entous, who chronicled the raid for The Wall Street Journal.

    So, in the past 24 hours, do we know any more information about any other casualties during this raid?

  • ADAM ENTOUS, The Wall Street Journal:

    No.

    The latest we have heard is the Americans assessed that about six or seven AQAP, or Al Qaeda, militants were killed in the raid. None of the special forces that were involved in the operation, about 40 total, none of them were hurt or injured in any way.

    But, of course, the outcome, as we know, was not what was intended, with the — with the death of the two hostages.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And at what point during this operation did things go south?

  • ADAM ENTOUS:

    What happened was is that the — the American commando team flew in on Osprey aircraft to a landing spot about 10 kilometers from the compound where the hostages were being held.

    And then they hiked by foot through this area to about 100 yards of the compound, when a noise was heard. One official told me that it might have been a dog bark, something as benign as that. And that tipped off the militants inside, who were already pretty trigger-happy, since there was a previous raid late last month to try to free the American hostage.

    And they — they opened fire. And, at that point, the commandos were still on the outside of the compound. And that's when Americans believe that one of the militants went inside a building and fired shots, killing the two hostages.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Let's talk a little bit about the intelligence that went into this operation. Obviously, the timetable was accelerated with the deadline of a possible killing.

    But, even if these two governments are working together, with all the intelligence resources that they had, they still didn't know that there was this other hostage there.

  • ADAM ENTOUS:

    Well, they knew that there was another hostage there, but they didn't know who it was.

    Basically, after the raid around Thanksgiving or just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. saw two hostages being moved from the previous site, which was a cave. They didn't know who those people were, but they, it seems incorrectly, thought at the time that it did not include the American.

    They — that raid in November helped lead special forces to this new compound. And, clearly, the intelligence was correct, in the sense that it had the American there and a second hostage, although the Americans didn't know who that second hostage was.

    But getting intelligence in this part of the world is incredibly, incredibly difficult. And, as you — as you know, intelligence is perishable. The information might be — might be right at one moment, but after a little bit of time, if the weather isn't right and the drones can't watch people coming and going, that intelligence can quickly be out of date.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right.

    So, what does this do to future missions? Or you said in your reporting that some of the U.S. officials you spoke to were devastated by this failure.

  • ADAM ENTOUS:

    Yes. This was the second very risky raid that the U.S. has done to try to get this American hostage in Yemen.

    And, at the White House, I know from talking to officials, they were really heartbroken that it was not successful. They really did take a huge risk here. They were inserting 40 special forces to rescue one American in a part of the — of Yemen where, you know, a lot of things can go wrong, with suicide bombers and things like that.

    So, it was a really — a real big gamble. But, from their perspective, they thought it was the best shot that Somers had, because AQAP was threatening to execute him as early as later that same day that the raid was taking place.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Adam Entous of The Wall Street Journal joining us from Washington, thanks so much.

  • ADAM ENTOUS:

    Thank you.

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