WASHINGTON — In a predawn raid Tuesday, US Special Operations commandos and Yemeni troops rescued eight hostages being held in a cave in a remote part of eastern Yemen by an Al Qaeda affiliate there, officials from both countries said.
The freed captives were six Yemeni citizens, a Saudi, and an Ethiopian, who were unharmed, Yemeni officials said in a statement. Earlier reports that a US hostage was freed were incorrect, according to Yemeni and US officials.
About two dozen US commandos, joined by a small number of US-trained Yemeni counterterrorism troops, flew secretly by helicopter to a location in Hadhramaut province near the Saudi border, according to US and Yemeni officials. The commandos then hiked some distance in the dark to a mountainside cave where they surprised the militants holding the captives.
An ensuing shootout left seven of the Al Qaeda militants dead, the officials said. The hostages were then evacuated in helicopters.
The rare and risky dash into Al Qaeda-infested territory was organized relatively quickly, within two weeks of a request from President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen to help rescue the captives, one US official said.
The operation appeared to be at least partly an attempt to bolster the stature of Hadi, a committed but wobbling US ally whose authority was badly undermined when a rebel group suddenly seized control of Yemen’s capital in September.
In an apparent effort to play down the leading US role in the clandestine operation, the Pentagon referred questions about what happened to the Yemeni government.
A statement from the Yemeni government made no mention of any US role in the hostage rescue, which is one of the principal missions of Joint Special Operations Command troops like the Army’s Delta Force or the Navy’s SEAL Team Six.