Amid Reporting over Botched Rescue, Scant Concern for Nameless Yemeni Civilians Also Killed
As western media pour over details of how a US military operation failed in its mission to rescue a kidnapped American journalist and South African aid worker, local Yemeni civilians killed receive little attention
In nearly two days of reporting on a failed rescue attempt by U.S. Navy Seals in a remote region of Yemen, much attention has understandably been paid to the two western hostages—American journalist Luke Somers and South African educator Pierre Korkie—who lost their lives when things went wrong, but scant attention has been given or concern shown for the so-far nameless Yemeni civilians who also died during the botched mission.
Though the New York Times reported that "eight civilians were also killed in the raid" and Reuters indicated that perhaps ten civilians were killed—"including a woman" and "a 10-year-old boy"—little has been conveyed about how these individuals were caught up in the fighting or whether or not the Pentagon will take any responsibility for their deaths.
The Pentagon acknowledged that it launched the raid in order to free Somers from his captors, but said it was unaware that Korkie was also being held at the same location or that his negotiated release was just hours from being fulfilled.
Various U.S. officials have expressed regret for the death of the two hostages, yet no apology for the Yemeni citizens killed has been reported.
According to Agence France-Presse on Monday, local tribal members may now seek compensation for the innocent victims of the raid, which they believe included Yemeni soldiers in addition to the U.S. special forces. AFP reports:
Tarek Ferid al-Daghari, who heads the influential Al-Awlaki tribe in Shabwa province, said his tribe would press for compensation from the Yemeni government over Saturday's raid.
"We call on the government in Sanaa to consider the case of seven civilians killed and that of a woman and child who were wounded for reparations," Daghari told AFP.
He said the government should form a commission to investigate as there was "evidence Yemeni soldiers were involved" in the operation at a remote village in the southeastern province.
In another disturbing detail of the case related to negotiations underway to free Mr. Korkie, the New York Times reports how the charity for which he worked, Gift of the Givers, had arranged for local tribal members to meet with his captors to bring down the amount of money demanded for his release. After an initial meeting showed progress (whittling the ransom from $3 million down to $700,000), a subsequent meeting was scheduled but ultimately never took place. Citing Imtiaz Sooliman, the director of the aid group, the Times reports just weeks ago, when the "tribal leaders went back to meet with Qaeda members," the car they were traveling in "was hit by a drone strike, killing the mediators."
Though Mr. Sooliman said the drone attack and resulting deaths of the tribal negotiators made him think the efforts to get Mr. Korkie were over, Korkie's captors reportedly took a different view of the events. As the Times continues:
[The] tragedy appears to have spurred Al Qaeda to agree to a lower sum, which it promised to use in part to reimburse families of the dead tribal negotiators. On Nov. 26, Mr. Korkie’s abductors sent word they would accept $200,000, to be split with the tribe members.
By Saturday, the money raised by Mrs. Korkie from friends and other donors had been delivered to Yemen. The cars were preparing to leave.
Between destroying one diplomatic effort to gain a hostage's freedom with a drone strike and killing at least several Yemeni civilians during the failed rescue attempt of another, the U.S. military may not have enough apologies to go around when it comes to recent behavior inside Yemen.
The most ground-level reporting so far of details concerning Saturday's raid come from independent journalist Iona Craig, who on Monday filed a report for the The Australian which read, in part:
The commandos of the Navy’s Seal Team 6 — the unit that killed Osama bin Laden — were backed by drones and fighter jets. They moved on foot across the desert towards the compound where the hostages were held.
About 100 yards from their target, a noise, possibly a barking dog, alerted guards in another house. That is when the floodlights came on and the shooting began. A Yemeni witness calling himself Jamal said: “Before the gunshots were heard, very strong floodlights turned the night into daylight, and then we heard loud explosions.”
The US troops were up against two al-Qa’ida guards as well as a group of armed local tribesmen aged between 19 and 70. Yemeni anti-terrorist troops were also involved. “The soldiers were calling on the house’s inhabitants to surrender and the speaker was clearly a Yemeni soldier,” Jamal said.
When the shooting died down, about half an hour later, the US commandos emerged from the building carrying the two wounded hostages. One hostage died while being flown to the assault ship Makin Island, off the Yemeni coast. The other hostage died on the ship’s operating table.
Another Yemeni witness, who called himself Abdullah, said the Yemeni army had blocked access to the compound for several hours. “When the forces withdrew, we found lots of bloodstains, but did not know if those were of the soldiers or the hostages,” he said.
Several of those said by militants to have died were from the Daghari and Awlaki families, important tribes in Shabwa province. Yemen’s government said the hostages were held in the house of a man named Saeed al-Daghari.
In a separate tweet responding to Pentagon claims that the U.S. was unaware of the situation regarding Korkie, Craig pushed back:
"US didn't know about talks on freeing S.African killed in Yemen raid" - Blatant lie. Most widely publicised talks in history of kidnapping
— Iona Craig أيونا (@ionacraig) December 8, 2014