CARACAS, Venezuela — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the United States had nothing to do with an alleged incursion into Venezuela that landed two U.S. citizens behind bars in the crisis-stricken South American nation.
Trump said he had just learned of the detention of the pair, accused by Venezuela of being mercenaries. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said they were part of an operation to kill him that was backed by neighboring Colombia and the United States.
“Whatever it is, we’ll let you know,” Trump told reporters in Washington before departing from the White House to Arizona. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”
Authorities in Venezuela identified the two men as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former U.S. special forces soldiers associated with the Florida-based private security firm Silvercorp USA.
A third U.S. ex-Green Beret and Silvercorp founder, Jordan Goudreau, claimed responsibility for leading “Operation Gideon,” which was launched with an attempted beach landing before dawn on Sunday that left eight suspected attackers dead.
The two ex-U.S. soldiers were detained Monday dozens of miles from the first attempted beach landing in a fishing village. Authorities say they've confiscated equipment and detained dozens of others.
Goudreau said the operation was designed to capture — and not kill Maduro. He said he carried it out on a “shoestring budget” after signing an agreement with U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who Goudreau accuses of failing to pay him. Guaidó denies having any relationship with Goudreau.
Venezuela is gripped by a deepening social and economic crisis under Maduro's rule that has led nearly 5 million residents to flee crumbling social services, such as unreliable water, electricity and broken hospitals.
The U.S. is among nearly 60 nations that back Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate leader, saying Maduro clings to power despite a sham election in 2018 that banned the most popular opposition candidates from running.
Venezuela and the U.S. broke diplomatic ties a year ago, so there is no U.S. embassy operating in Venezuela's capital of Caracas.
“It shocks me how insane they were,” said Mike Vigil, the former head of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “They walked right into a coiled rattlesnake without even having minimally studied the capacity of the Venezuelan armed forces. There’s no way the U.S. government would’ve supported an operation like this.”
Goodman reported from Miami.