War on Terror

US security forces responsible for Pierre Korkie’s death

Pierre Korkie.jpg

Responsibility for the violent death of South African teacher, humanitarian and al-Qaeda hostage Pierre Korkie less than 36 hours before he was due for release has to be laid fully at the door of the United States security establishment.

A careful analysis of the events leading up to the botched ‘rescue’ attempt by an American Special Operation Forces (SEAL) unit, of an American journalist, Luke Somers, held captive with Korkie, the way the operation played out and information that came to light since, reveals seriously flawed intelligence, ham-handed overall strategizing, bad planning and sloppy execution.

There is also plenty of evidence that the Americans, including their embassy in South Africa, are quite careless with the truth.

Both captives died as a result of the operation on 6 December in Yemen. Not all the details are known yet and it is quite possible that they were not “executed” by their capturers as claimed by the Americans. They might have been killed by American bullets in the wild shootout that followed when the “rescuers” were surprised by floodlights coming on as they we about to launch their own “surprise” attack.

After al-Qaeda fighters fled the scene, both captives were found alive but badly wounded, which does not look like an execution.

If the captives were accidentally killed by their “rescuers”, it would not be the first time something like this has happened. In October 2010 a Scottish aid worker, Linda Norgrove, and three Afghan colleagues, kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, were killed during a US-led special rescue operation.
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At the time it was claimed that some of the SEALs saw her being killed by her Taliban kidnappers. A NATO investigation later revealed that she was killed by an unauthorised hand grenade thrown by one of her “rescuers”.

Sloppy intelligence

The latest failed attempt to rescue Somers was the second one in two weeks. In August in Syria a rescue mission aimed at setting free American hostages held by the Islamic State found no hostages “at the site of the operation”. The final result was a video of the killing of James Foley, one of the American hostages.

Two days before the latest operation at the village of Dafaar in Yemen the Washington Post, on 4 December, wrote: “Both the rescue operation in Yemen and the one in Syria apparently failed due to problems with the intelligence used to plan the raids, a recurring issue for rescue teams in hostile foreign environments.”

Some of the claims by the Americans after the failed operation at Dafaar also reveal either incredibly sloppy intelligence work or an attempt at saving face. By the time the news broke in South Africa that Korkie was killed, the US president in a statement still referred to the two hostages as Somers and a “non-US citizen” to whose family he also offered his “thoughts and prayers”.

Outgoing US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, officials of the State Department and other US spokespeople on the one hand claim that they did not know that Mr Korkie was the “non-US citizen”. On the other hand they find it necessary to explain that they did not know of the negotiations of the Gift of the Givers organisation on his behalf and his imminent release.

As recently as November some of the tribal mediators in those negotiations were killed in an American drone strike while travelling in a car to meet with al-Qaeda members.

The statement that is the most incredible comes from Patrick Gaspard, America’s ambassador to South Africa, reported by The Guardian, on the Monday after the botched operation. He said that “that US official were also unaware of ongoing negotiations that had any resolution between the militants and Gift of the Givers …”

All the embassy had to do to know about these negotiations was to follow the regular coverage of the ongoing negotiations in the South African media.

There is also the possibility that president Obama was not fully briefed on that score when he was asked by the US security establishment to authorise the rescue operation. The same Guardian report includes the following telling sentence: “Arrangements for Korkie's release may have been missed by the White House.”

To add to the problem of either sloppy or selective intelligence fed to decision-makers, based on information officially released, the whole operation was planned and launched in less than 36 hours. Despite this, secretary Hagel in his response said: No rescue is ever recommended “unless there is a complete, thorough internal review of intelligence”.

Only American lives matter

The message that comes through is that in the end it is only its own citizens and American lives that count. In what has become the trend in rescue operations and others associated with the so-called Global War on Terror (GWT), of the 13 people who lost their lives at Dafaar, 11 were civilians, including a woman, a 10-year-old boy and an old man of 75. Somer is the only American.

Despite this pattern, Hagel said he saw no need to review hostage rescue procedures. “I don’t think it’s a matter of going back and having a review. Our process is about as thorough as it can be,” he told reporters.

The day after the operation Bloomberg reported: “While such missions may fail, US officials say they often have little to lose and much to gain by trying, with so many hostages now being killed by Islamic militants. Even if captives die in the attempt, they are spared becoming a gruesome spectacle on extremist videos.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Dafaar operation had only been approved because of information that the American’s life was in imminent danger.

According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor the operation was “part of a growing trend: US Special Operations Forces being dispatched to (all) corners of the globe to rescue citizens in harm’s way”.

Losing moral high ground

With all the side-effects of missions like these, the US is fast losing the moral high ground. Its GWT is increasingly proving to be counterproductive, borne out by the following:

• The increasing debate about the legality of “taking out” targets in the absence of a declared war and accusations that such killings are murder and not war;

• The use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones that have seen the killing of 28 innocent civilians for each target hit, according to a report by the human-rights NGO Reprieve;

• In the 13 years since declared by president George Bush after the 9/11 attack, which resulted in 2 996 casualties, the GWT resulted in at least 227 000 casualties – 51% civilians, 35% insurgents or Taliban Islamist, 11% Afghan soldiers and 3.9% American and other coalition forces; and

• Despite trillions having been spent over the 13 years, terrorism has increased globally. The annual count of terror attacks has more than quadrupled from about 1 500 in 2 000 to almost 10 000 in 2013

On top of all this, last week’s report by the US senate on the torture of terrorist suspects by the Central Intelligence Agency has already placed strain on relations with Britain, which was fed false information. Even in Canada there is being lobbied for that country to review its policies on intelligence sharing with the US and it would come as no surprise if other countries will follow.

by Piet Coetzer

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