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US Commandos Take Part in Yemen Rescue Mission

Hadhramout, Yemen

Hadhramout, Yemen

A day after the Pentagon refused to comment, a defense official told VOA that the U.S. military "supported and cooperated with Yemeni forces" in an operation that freed Yemeni hostages and an Ethiopian.

Yemeni officials had said earlier that Tuesday's raid, in an eastern portion of the country known as an al-Qaida safe haven, also resulted in the deaths of seven suspected al-Qaida fighters.

Max Abrahms, an assistant professor of public policy at Northeastern University in Boston and a terrorism expert, said that with or without U.S. involvement, the operation was noteworthy.

"It worked in two senses," Abrahms said. "The first is there was a release of hostages. And several of the hostage-takers were killed."

As first reported by the New York Times, some two dozen American commandos took part in the operation. Abrahms said the apparent success might put pressure on the United States to turn to special forces in its fight against terrorists elsewhere.

"We don't have alternate options on the ground, either in Syria or in Iraq," he said. "The moderate Syrian rebels are in complete disarray. We can't rely on them there. And in Iraq, the reality is that the government and the military forces there are taking a longer time to train as well."

But Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior adviser at the Rand Corporation and a former Green Beret, said that while special forces have been used in rescue missions several times over the past few years, no one should expect such operations to become the norm.

"These are high-risk missions. They require very precise intelligence," Jenkins said. "It requires an opportunity, a true opportunity to rescue the hostage. And as we've seen, in many cases it simply doesn't work."

President Barack Obama has pointed to Washington's counterterrorism efforts with Yemen — which put Yemeni forces on the front lines — as a successful example of his administration's strategy. But defense officials caution that the decision to cooperate with Yemeni forces in this hostage rescue mission was made only after consultations with Yemen's president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.