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US Forces Rescue Kidnapped Westerners in Somalia

Former Somalia Hostage Dane Poul Hagen Thisted pcitured in an undated file photo.
Former Somalia Hostage Dane Poul Hagen Thisted pcitured in an undated file photo.
Luis Ramirez

U.S. defense officials say an American woman and a Danish man who were kidnapped last October in Somalia are safe, after being rescued by U.S. commandos in a daring operation northwest of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Pentagon officials say American forces swept into an encampment in the vicinity of the town of Cadaado, northwest of Mogadishu, and pulled American Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted, a Danish national, to safety.

US Forces Rescue Kidnapped Westerners in Somalia
US Forces Rescue Kidnapped Westerners in Somalia

Western officials said U.S. special forces arrived aboard helicopters early Wednesday. Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters the kidnappers were heavily armed.

Military Raids to Free Hostages in Somalia

There have been several foreign military operations to free hostages held in Somalia or off its coast. Most of the captives were taken by pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

  • February 22, 2011: Four Americans are killed by their captors aboard their yacht S/V Quest as U.S. forces move to free them.
  • September 9, 2010: U.S. Marines rescue the crew of the German owned Magellan Star seized in the Gulf of Aden.
  • April 27, 2010: Yemeni forces capture the oil tanker Qana seized off Yemen's coast.
  • April 5, 2010: A Dutch navy frigate frees the German cargo ship Taipan taken off the coast of Somalia.
  • February 5, 2010: NATO special forces free 25 crew members of the Slovenian cargo ship Ariella captured in the Gulf of Aden.
  • April 12, 2009: The U.S. Navy rescues Richard Phillips, captain of a captured U.S. vessel, and kills three of his four captors.

“They had explosives nearby and there were very concrete plans for removing the kidnappers and placing them in detention,” said Little.

U.S. officials say that opportunity did not present itself. The raid lasted several hours and by the end of it, U.S. forces had killed nine suspected kidnappers. The Pentagon did not say whether there was an exchange of gunfire. No Americans were killed.

The kidnapped victims were working for a Danish aid agency when they were abducted by gunmen in October.

The raid began as President Barack Obama was preparing to give his State of the Union address Tuesday night in Washington. By the time the president approached the podium to begin his speech, he already had learned that the hostages had been safely retrieved.  

Microphones overheard him praising U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as he entered the room.

“Good job tonight. Good job,” said Obama to Panetta.

Defense officials say the decision to carry out the raid came after getting word Buchanan’s health was deteriorating due to a pre-existing health condition. They did not say what that condition is. After her rescue, she was under the care of  U.S. military medical personnel.  

Defense officials did not disclose her location, but news reports said she was taken to a U.S. base in neighboring Djibouti.  

The operation happened as the Pentagon prepared to release its new budget, which is expected to contain the first significant cuts since the September 11 attacks of 2001. The budget is expected to raise funding for special operations and unconventional warfare teams.

The Obama administration this month announced a new military strategy to create what it says will be a leaner, more agile force. The administration has also said it wants to focus more on Africa, where officials say the State Department-designated terrorist groups al-Shabab and al-Qaida are operating in Somalia.

Pentagon officials described the kidnappers killed in the Somalia raid as criminal suspects and gave no indication of whether they were part of a terrorist network.

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