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This post was edited by mark069 at 2012-1-25 11:15|
U.S. special forces rescue Somalia aid workers
Washington (CNN) -- U.S. special forces swooped into Somalia in a pair of helicopters in a daring overnight raid to rescue two kidnapped aid workers -- an American and a Dane -- and killed the nine gunmen holding them, American officials said Wednesday.
The hostages, Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted, were seized in October after they visited humanitarian projects in northern Somalia, said the Danish Refugee Council, the agency for which they worked.
Both are unharmed, the aid group said.
They were taken to a regional medical facility and received care from U.S. military doctors and nurses, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday.
Andreas Kamm, secretary-general of the Danish Refugee Council, told CNN the agency was "very relieved" that both hostages had been safely rescued.
"They are not hospitalized," Kamm said, so "we take it as a sign that they're OK."
The pair phoned their families from the African nation of Djibouti after the rescue, said Ann Mary Olsen of the Danish Refugee Council, according to Danish TV2 reporter Thorkild Dahl.
Dahl said Olsen told reporters she had tried to work with local people to get the hostages released but had not succeeded.
Navy SEALs from the unit that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last year in Pakistan were part of the mission, a U.S. official said, without specifying whether any of the same individuals were on both assaults.
More details of the operation
SEALs were only part of the special forces team, the official said. Pentagon spokesman Little said the rescue team included special operations troops from different branches of the military but would not specify which branches.
The SEALs are part of a unit officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, formerly known as SEAL Team Six.
The special forces troops took fire as they fought their way into a compound where the hostages were held, the official said, adding the troops believed that the kidnappers were shooting. The official is not authorized to speak to the media and asked not to be named.
Nine heavily armed gunmen were killed in the strike, Little said, adding that they had explosives nearby. There were no known survivors among the kidnappers, he added.
The American assault team did not suffer any injuries, the Pentagon said.
The special forces rushed the hostages out of the compound and onto the helicopters, the U.S. official said.
The raid was undertaken on what CNN meteorologists say was a dark night, with little moonlight but generally clear skies.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, traveling with President Barack Obama to Iowa on Wednesday, gave more details of how the mission had unfolded.
Obama learned of the success of the mission at 6:43 p.m. Tuesday, a little more than two hours before he gave the State of the Union address, Carney said.
"The decision to go ahead with this rescue mission was made because there was information concerning the deteriorating health of Ms. Buchanan, as well as a window of opportunity to execute this mission," Carney said.
Obama, who had given the go-ahead at 9 p.m. Monday, was kept regularly updated on its progress throughout Tuesday, Carney said.
Only minutes after concluding his high-profile speech, the president telephoned Buchanan's father at 10:32 p.m. to inform him of the mission's success, Carney said.
Before news broke of the rescue, Obama told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, "Leon, good job tonight. Good job tonight," at the State of the Union address.
The hostages were safe at that point, but the mission was not yet complete as the American assault team was not out of Somalia, Little said.
Obama thanked the special operations forces for their "extraordinary courage and capabilities" in a statement, but did not provide details on the fatalities.
"The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to bring their captors to justice," Obama said. "This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people."
Panetta monitored the rescue from the White House, Little said.
In a statement, Panetta later said the raid "is a testament to the superb skills of courageous service members who risked their lives to save others."
Speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America," Vice President Joe Biden said of the special forces: "It just takes your breath away, their capacity and their bravery and their incredible timing."
The rescued American is "doing well, under the circumstances," her father told CNN on Wednesday.
John Buchanan said the family was "fine -- now," and expressed his thanks to the special forces who rescued Jessica, saying: "We're really grateful." He declined to comment on her health.
Capt. John Kirby, another Pentagon spokesman, said the abductors were ordinary criminals.
"They were kidnappers. We don't have any indication that they were connected to any terrorist group or ideological group at that point," he said.
"They were not Al-Shabaab," Little said, referring to the al Qaeda-linked Islamist militia that holds sway over parts of Somalia.
He said the sense of urgency with regard to the hostage situation had increased from mid-January.
"It's safe to say that within the last week or so, we were able to connect enough dots that we could make the decisions that were made," Kirby said, referring to the intelligence U.S. officials had to go on.
The area where the hostages were seized is known as a hub for pirates, rather than an area of Islamic militant activity.
Thisted, the rescued Dane, is a senior aid worker who had been in Somalia for some time, said Olsen of the Danish Refugee Council.
A number of high-profile abductions of foreigners have occurred in Somalia and in Kenya, close to the largely lawless Somali border.
Some of the kidnappings have been blamed on Al-Shabaab, while criminals seeking ransoms seem to have carried out others.
The raid comes nearly three years after Navy snipers killed three pirates who had taken hostage the captain of the Maersk Alabama off Somalia.
U.S. forces did not coordinate the raid with local officials, but residents welcomed the outcome as a warning to other groups to cease the kidnapping of foreigners, said Abdirahman Mohamud Farole, president of Puntland, a semiautonomous region of Somalia.
Local authorities gave conflicting casualty figures after the raid. Some officials said seven gunmen were killed, but Mohamed Ahmed Aalin, president of Galmudug state, said nine were killed and five others detained by U.S. forces.
The aid workers were part of the Danish Refugee Council's de-mining unit, which aims to make civilians safe from landmines and unexploded ordnance.