New reporting from the New York Times tells the story of how two U.S. agents—one from the CIA and the other a Special Forces soldier—were involved in a deadly incident more than a month ago that began in a barber shop in the Yemen capital of Sanaa and ended after two alleged assailants were killed in a gunfight.
Subsequently the U.S. officers—before news of the incident spread—were quickly extracted from the country with the blessing and quiet support of the Yemeni government.
From the Times:
News of the shootings comes at a perilous moment for the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whose collaboration with American drone strikes against suspected members of Al Qaeda is already a subject of seething resentment in Yemen. Yemenis believe, with some evidence, that the drone strikes often kill nearby civilians as well as their targets, so any indication that Mr. Hadi’s government helped conceal the killing of Yemenis by American commandos could be problematic.
Violence in the country is increasing, and on Friday, militants attacked a checkpoint outside the presidential palace, apparently in retaliation for the government’s roughly 10-day offensive against Qaeda strongholds.
Exactly what the two Americans were doing at the time of the shooting on April 24 is unclear. Some American officials said they were merely getting a haircut in a barbershop on Hadda Street in Sana, in an upscale district frequently visited by foreigners, playing down any suggestions that they were engaged in a clandestine operation.
Late Friday, both the Pentagon and C.I.A. declined to comment on the shooting, and referred all questions to the State Department.
“We can confirm that, last month, two U.S. Embassy officers in Yemen fired their weapons after being confronted by armed individuals in an attempted kidnapping at a small commercial business in Sana,” a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said in an email response to questions from The New York Times. “Two of the armed individuals were killed. The Embassy officers are no longer in Yemen.”
With so little known about the details, those skeptical of the U.S. government's narrative of incident—at least at the moment—can do little more than speculate about alternative stories. But as a suggested by investigative journalist Chris Woods, who has done extensive reporting on the CIA's clandestine drone operations in Yemen for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, any government claims about overseas episodes like this should be treated with deep suspicion. In response to the Times coverage, Woods tweeted:
Nothing to see, move along now. CIA and JSOC operatives 'foil Yemen kidnapping', gun down 2 assailants in barbershop http://t.co/DpnsmMoToh— Chris Woods (@chrisjwoods) May 10, 2014