The U.S. won't be reviewing the failed rescue attempt that ended with al Qaeda killing American hostage Luke Somers on Saturday and other similar operations to free U.S. captives abroad, outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. The move appeared to have support from some members of Congress, including the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
"Is it imperfect? Yes. Is there risk? Yes. But we start with the fact that we have an American that's being held hostage and that American life is in danger," Hagel told the BBC about the thought process that leads to rescue operations. U.S. drone strikes targeted the al Qaeda compound in Yemen where Somers, a 33-year-old photojournalist, was being held on Saturday. The Obama administration went forward with the plan, which included drone strikes and Navy SEALs, after it learned that Somers was in “imminent danger,” the president said. It was believed that Somers was to be executed Sunday. A South African teacher, Pierre Korkie, 56, who was also being held hostage died during the operation.
"It is my highest responsibility to do everything possible to protect American citizens," President Barack Obama said after Somers was killed when an al Qaeda operative spotted one of the U.S. commandos involved in the operation. "As this and previous hostage rescue operations demonstrate, the United States will spare no effort to use all of its military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring Americans home safely, wherever they are located."
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said trying to rescue Somers was the right move. "It was an unfortunate outcome,” he told CNN on Sunday. "But I do believe you have to make these kinds of decisions."
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., agreed. "Obviously we would have loved to be able to rescue these hostages and preserve their lives,” Schiff, who also sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said. "But I think it was the right decision to make ... The president made the call, the tough call that it was worth the risk. And I think he was exactly right."
A rescue operation was also attempted to free U.S. journalist James Foley over the summer in Syria. Foley was held hostage by the so-called Islamic State, the Islamist militant group formerly known as ISIS. The 40-year-old Foley was beheaded Aug. 19. The rescue attempt by U.S. special operations forces failed because Foley had been moved and wasn't in the location where the commandos landed.
While such operations won’t be looked into, the U.S. is reviewing its hostage policy, including improving “family engagement, intelligence collection and diplomatic engagement policies,” according to a letter written by Undersecretary of Defense Christine Wormuth to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. The letter was received last month, but it’s unclear when it was written or when the review got underway.
Whether the U.S. will pay ransom for hostages isn't expected to be part of the review.