No review of US policy after the failed rescue of Korkie and Somers

DECEMBER 8, 2014

The US said on Monday there will be no reviews of its operations to free Americans held by militants despite recent failures. This follows the killing of US journalist, Luke Somers, and South African teacher, Pierre Korkie, by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, after a botched US-led rescue attempt on Saturday.

As criticism mounts over the armed raid, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the operation saying such raids were risky and that there was no need for a policy review.

Korkie was abducted with his wife, Yolande, in May 2013 in Yemen's second city, Taiz. She was freed on 10 January without ransom and returned to South Africa. The kidnappers were demanding $3 million (about R32.5 million) for Korkie's safe return.

Somers was also kidnapped outside a supermarket in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in September last year.

In immediate danger

The US said that the raid in southern Yemen was launched after intelligence suggested there was an immediate threat to Somers's life.

On Thursday, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had released a video of the UK-born photojournalist, saying that he would be killed within 72 hours if unspecified demands were not met.

In a White House statement on Saturday, US President Barack Obama said the rescue operation was necessary as Somers's life was in imminent danger.

“As soon as there was reliable intelligence and an operational plan, I authorised a rescue attempt,” Obama said.

Barking dog betrays attempt

A barking dog reportedly betrayed the presence of US Seals on a mission to save Somers and Korkie.

About 40 US Special Forces are thought to have taken part in the operation, which came after drone strikes in the area.

After being dropped off at about 11km outside of Sjabwah - where the hostages were being held, US Seals were discovered only about 100m from the buildings where al-Qaeda members were hiding after a dog started barking.

There was an exchange of fire and one militant was seen running to an outside room where he is believed to have shot Korkie and Somers.

After the 30-minute battle, US Seals found Korkie and Somers critically wounded and were airlifted in a V-22 Osprey plane to a US ship in the Gulf of Aden.

Medical personnel performed emergency operations on both Korkie and Somers in the aircraft, but Korkie died before it reached the ship; and Somers died shortly after arriving on the ship.

Ten militants were reportedly killed in the fire-fight.

Korkie dead before scheduled release

NGO, Gift of the Givers foundation, who helped in negotiating with al-Qaeda, said Korkie died a day before he was due to be released following a negotiated deal.

His body is expected back in South Africa on Monday.

The US Embassy in South Africa has sent its condolences to the families of Korkie and Somers.

“Just as we are joined in the common struggle against violent extremists, the US and South Africa share in the pain of losing citizens to the threat posed by them,” it said in a statement.

 “The United States remains determined to do our utmost to hold those who have done our citizens harm accountable,” said the embassy.

“This heartbreaking incident is a reminder of the need for all governments to unite against the common threat posed to all of our citizens.”

Reactions

Korkie’s wife, Yolande, on Sunday said that she had forgiven her husband’s killers.

"So today we choose to forgive. We choose to love. We choose to rejoice in the memories of Pierre and keep him alive in our hearts. We honour Pierre's legacy and give Glory to God for his life and death," she said in a statement.

"We resolve to live in the embrace of God - until our time comes to be reunited. Even though this pain is overwhelming us right now, we choose to believe that this too will pass."

She said Pierre Korkie had been a hostage for 558 day.

"Although we were separated in the flesh after 228 days when I was released, I remained with him in the spirit until the end. On 6 December 2014, my dearest friend and companion and godly daddy was torn from me and the children," Yolande said in the statement.

"The furnace of 19 months has been relentless and red hot. Thus I had to really think very hard and long for an appropriate approach in the face of this pain."

She thanked the South African government and everyone who was involved in trying to secure Pierre’s release.

"It [the repatriating] is greatly appreciated and a most special gift. I realise there are so many questions that are unanswered. Please forgive me if I don't endeavour on them right now," she said.

"Tomorrow [Monday] Pierre will be returned to us as he saw in a vision; we will spend time with him saying goodbye and reaching for some sort of closure."

Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba also sent condolences to the families.

“Sad and shocked at the death of Pierre Korkie, we in the Anglican Church send our condolences to his wife, Yolande, and their family,” he said in a statement.

“As we mourn his death and that of Luke Somers, we call on all nations involved to expose those who maintain the extremism of groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

A memorial service for Pierre will be held in Bloemfontein later in the week followed by a private burial service.

Photo capion: Pierre Korkie's wife, Yolande. She said on Sunday that, her family had forgiven her husband's killers.