Bloomberg News

U.S. Special Forces Free Hostages in Somalia in Pre-Dawn Raid

January 26, 2012

Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Commandos freed two kidnapped aid workers, an American woman and a Danish man, in a pre-dawn raid in Somalia that ended their three months of captivity in the war-torn country.

Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted were rescued today and have been taken to a safe location unharmed, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement on the U.S. Defense Department’s website. U.S. military helicopters were used in the operation, Ecoterra, a piracy monitoring group, said in an e- mailed statement today, citing unidentified informants.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said in an e-mail that President Barack Obama in the U.S. House chamber before his State of the Union address was referring to the successful raid when he was overheard by television microphones praising Panetta. Obama was heard saying: “Leon, good job tonight. Good job tonight.”

This was the second major commando mission Obama has publicly acknowledged that he ordered since coming into office. The first was the May U.S. Navy SEAL team raid in Pakistan that killed Osama Bin Laden. The Pentagon’s new strategy places heavy emphasis on the use of U.S. special operations forces in both counter-terrorism and foreign assistance roles.

Buchanan and Thisted were abducted on Oct. 25 in Galkayo, about 575 kilometers (358 miles) northwest of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, while visiting a demining project there, according to their employer, the Copenhagen-based non-profit, Danish Refugee Council. Criminal gangs operating from Somalia have targeted foreigners to get ransoms in exchange for their release. Gunmen abducted an American man in Galkayo on Jan. 21, the Associated Press reported, citing an unidentified Somali minister.

Kidnappers Killed

Seven Somali kidnappers were killed in the raid and five were injured, one of them critically, Ecoterra said. The hostages were taken to the East African nation of Djibouti, which hosts the only U.S. military base in Africa, AP said.

Somalia descended into chaos after the ouster of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991. Al-Shabaab, the Islamic militant group with links to al-Qaeda, has been battling Somalia’s Western-backed transitional federal government for five years and controls most of the country’s south and central regions.

With assistance from Hamsa Omar in Mogadishu --Editors: Paul Richardson, Gordon Bell

--Editors: Paul Richardson, Karl Maier.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at smcgregor5@bloomberg.net; Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.


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