US reveals failed attempt to rescue Luke Somers held hostage by Yemeni Al-Qaeda
Photojournalist Luke Somers appeared in a video released by al-Qaeda days before his deathAQAP

The recent death of Al-Qaeda hostages Luke Somers and Pierre Korkie, has raised questions over two failed rescue operations carried out by US Special Forces.

In a statement on Thursday, Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, acknowledged that the US had carried out a complex rescue operation in Yemen, intending to rescue a number of hostages including an American national, on 25 November.

The statement was made after Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video showing British hostage Luke Somers, begging for his life.

Whilst Kirby insisted the full details of the first rescue operation were classified information, he did confirm that the first raid had targeted an Al-Qaeda safe haven in the Wadi Abadan al-Daqqar region of the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa. The target was to rescue Luke Somers, who was snatched off the streets near a supermarket in Saa'na back in September 2013.

Eight hostages – including several Yemeni nationals, an Ethiopian and a Saudi, were rescued, but four of the other hostages (including Luke Somers and Pierre Korkie) had already been moved by the militants to a remote network of caves.

A second rescue operation was carried out on Saturday. Forty US Special Forces soldiers were used in the rescue operation, after drone strikes peppered the area. The team had to cover six miles of arid desert before they reached the compounds in which intelligence reports suggested were holding the hostages.

The rescuers were 100m away from the compound when the militants were alerted, possibly by a dog bark or by a local informer, and a heavy gun fight ensued. Ten militants were killed and it is believed one of the Al-Qaeda militants shot the two hostages prior to being killed.

The rescue team found the two hostages, who had both sustained gunshot wounds. Korkie died from his injuries on board the helicopter while Somers was pronounced dead after reaching a US naval ship.

According to the BBC, the US Special Forces were unaware of the presence of Korkie: a South African volunteer teacher, who was kidnapped with his wife from the city of Taiz.

Korkie's family and supporters were left devastated after being informed by an FBI agent of his death.

Korkie's wife had managed to negotiate a deal for his release with AQAP and the family had been expecting him to be flying home on Sunday: the day after he was killed in the botched rescue operation.

It is not the first time a US rescue operation has gone wrong in the region. South of the Gulf of Aden, a Navy SEAL team attempted to rescue hostages in Somalia in October 2013. The rescue team was forced to abort their mission in Barawe after miscalculating the strength of local al-Shabaab militia.

Similarly, a recent Islamic State propaganda video, featuring the British photojournalist John Cantlie, revealed that a US-led rescue operation had been carried out in July to try and rescue the hostages.

Cantlie said that Islamic State had heard about the mission and just hours before the US Special Forces landed, moved the hostages to another safe house.