Navy SEALs extract American woman, Danish man in daring Somali raid

By Kimberly Dozier

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012 2:41 p.m. MST

This undated photo taken at an unknown location and released by the Danish Refugee Council on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 shows Dane Poul Hagen Thisted from the Danish Refugee Council's de-mining unit. U.S. military forces helicoptered into Somalia in a nighttime raid Wednesday and freed two hostages, American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Dane Poul Hagen Thisted, 60, while killing nine pirates, officials and a pirate source said.

Danish Refugee Council, Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Held captive since last fall, an ailing American woman and a Danish man are safely on their way home after a bold, dark-of-night rescue by U.S. Navy SEALs. The commandos slipped into a Somali encampment, shot and killed nine captors and whisked the hostages to freedom.

The raid's success was welcome news for the hostages and their families, for the military and for President Barack Obama, who was delivering his State of the Union speech as the mission was wrapping up Tuesday night. He did not mention it in his address but dropped a hint upon arriving in the House chamber by telling Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, "Good job tonight."

It was the second splashy SEAL Team 6 success in less than a year, following last May's killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The SEALs apparently encountered some degree of resistance from the kidnappers at the encampment. One U.S. official said Wednesday that there was a firefight but the length and extent of the battle were unclear.

Pentagon spokesmen said they could not confirm a gun battle, although one defense official said it was likely that the SEALs killed the kidnappers rather than capture them because they encountered armed resistance or the threat of resistance.

The Pentagon was mostly tight-lipped about details on Wednesday, citing a need to preserve the secrecy that can give SEALs and other special operations forces an edge against the terrorists, criminals and others they are ordered to kill or capture around the world under hazardous and often hostile conditions.

Special operations forces, trained for clandestine, small-team missions, have become a more prominent tool in the military's kit since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration is expected to announce on Thursday that it will invest even more heavily in that capability in coming years.

After planning and rehearsal, the Somalia rescue was carried out by SEAL Team 6, officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a secret mission. The same outfit did the bin Laden mission, the biggest counter-terror success of Obama's presidency. It was not clear whether any team members participated in both operations.

One official said the SEALs parachuted from U.S. Air Force aircraft before moving on foot, apparently undetected, to the outdoor encampment where they found American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Poul Hagen Thisted, a 60-year-old Dane, who had been kidnapped in Somalia last fall. The raid happened near the town of Adado.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the captors were heavily armed and had "explosives nearby" when the rescuers arrived on the scene, but he was not more specific. He declined to say whether there was an exchange of gunfire and would not provide any further details about how the rescue was completed beyond saying all of the captors were killed by the Americans.

The American raiders caught the kidnappers as they were sleeping after having chewed the narcotic leaf qat for much of the evening, a pirate who gave his name as Bile Hussein told The Associated Press by phone. Hussein said he was not present at the site but had spoken with other pirates who were, and that they told him nine pirates had been killed in the raid and three were "taken away."

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said U.S. officials could not confirm that the kidnappers were engaged in piracy. He referred to them simply as "criminals."

Little said the decision to go ahead with the rescue was prompted in part by rising concern about the medical condition of Buchanan. He said he could not be specific without violating her privacy but did say U.S. officials had reason to believe her condition could be life-threatening. Mary Ann Olsen, an official with the Danish Refugee Council, which employed Buchanan and Thisted in de-mining efforts in Somalia, said Buchanan was "not that ill" but needed medicine.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS