The Wall Street Journal newspaper said the absence of the element of surprise was one of the reasons behind the failure of the rescue of two foreign hostages, including American Luke Somers.
Under the cover of night, U.S. commandos approached the walled compound on foot, hoping to catch unawares the militants holding the hostages.
Then, less than 100 yards from their target, something went terribly wrong. A noise, maybe a dog bark, alerted the militants to the raiders, according to U.S. officials briefed on the operation. The rescue team’s biggest advantage—the element of surprise—was lost in that moment, and the shooting started.
When the dust settled 30 minutes later, the roughly 40-man Special Operations team emerged from the compound carrying Mr. Somers and a South African hostage, both badly wounded. The medics couldn’t save them, and the two were pronounced dead after their evacuation.
The operation took place after midnight Saturday local time in a remote area of southern Yemen. White House officials knew the operation would be risky. They also didn’t see any better options.
American photojournalist Luke Somers was killed by his al Qaeda captors during a failed U.S. rescue mission on December 5.
U.S. intelligence officials had assessed that militants with al Qaeda who were holding Somers, intended to kill him later that day, in keeping with a death threat they had issued earlier in the week.
“They were serious,” a senior administration official said. “They were going to execute him on Saturday.”
The failed raid is a visceral and tragic reminder of the limits of Special Operations forces as a tool against terror groups.
While the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden was a spectacular success, others have been less so, including a failed attempt earlier this year to spring U.S. hostages held by the militant group Islamic State, as well as a previous effort to free Mr. Somers.
Officials said the previous Somers rescue attempt, which occurred late last month, led U.S. intelligence agencies to the compound in southern Yemen that the Special Operations team raided on Saturday.