American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie were both killed last night during a rescue attempt launched against their captors, members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. (AQAP) Initial coverage from Reuters.
A U.S. journalist and a South African teacher held by al Qaeda militants in Yemen were killed during a rescue attempt by U.S. and Yemeni forces, senior officials said on Saturday.
U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said al Qaeda militants killed Luke Somers, 33, and another hostage during the rescue operation.
Major General Ali al-Ahmadi, chief of the national security bureau in Yemen, said Somers was killed during the raid and other hostages held by the group had been taken to field hospitals, but gave no details about them or their condition.
Terrible news to be sure, but I have to take Hagel at his word. Supposedly the intel showed that Somers was in “imminent danger” of being killed by the terrorists anyway, so they had to take a shot at it. Other reports indicate that as many as nine civilians were also killed during the raid.
Somers was being held by AQAP in Shabwa Province in Yemen, which is probably one of the toughest regions in the world to conduct operations or gather reliable intelligence. The Guardian filed an excellent report a few years ago describing the area. It is inhabited by clashing factions and camps of Bedouin tribesmen, as well as previously being the base of operations for Anwar al-Awlaki. The area is known for being almost entirely lawless.
The situation between the tribes and al-Qaida is tense.
The tribes can’t deny them shelter and hospitality: in the Bedouin code of honour there are few crimes graver than insulting or betraying a guest or refusing him hospitality.
At the same time, they have became weary of their presence and the unwanted attention they have brought. Every night I was in Shabwa, drones flew slowly around the skies, keeping watch on the rocky landscape. The pictures sent back must be familiar to other drone-infested war zones…
Ferocious blood feuds have been raging for years in Shabwa. Almost every tribesman in the region finds himself entangled in the cycle of revenge. The barren desert and mountain are divided into patches of small tribal war zones.
I’m sure there will be some backlash since we failed to get Somers out alive, but given the circumstances it doesn’t sound like the odds were very good in the first place. A better question is what we should be doing about Yemen in the long run. The government there, such as it is, appears to be on the brink of collapse. Their leadership has been pointing their fingers at Washington and accusing the Obama administration of fomenting unrest. They lost control of their own capital, Sana, earlier this year to a group of rebels called the Houthis. Outside of a couple of major population centers, nobody is in control, which is probably what made it such an attractive destination for al Qaeda.
With no reliable governmental partner to work with, our options appear limited except for high risk military incursions such as this one. And until the larger problem of terrorist networks is dealt with, I’m afraid we can expect repeat performances of this raid in the future.