U.S. Special Forces launch daring raid in Somalia, rescue aid workers

SomaliaKidnappingThe PentagonHealthJoe BidenUnrest, Conflicts and WarCNN (tv network)

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 several gunmen, 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 receiving care from U.S. military doctors and nurses, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

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.

The official is not authorized to speak to the media and asked not to be named.

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.

Nine heavily armed gunmen were killed in the strike, Pentagon spokesman Little said, adding that they had explosives nearby.

There were no known survivors among the kidnappers, Little said.

He said SEALs were only part of the special forces team, but would not specify what branches of the military the other troops came from. The SEALs are part of a unit officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, formerly known as SEAL Team Six.

There are conflicting reports of the number of wounded in Somalia. The American assault team did not suffer any injuries, the Pentagon said.

Special forces decided to mount the raid now at least partly because Buchanan's health was failing, Vice President Joe Biden said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"It just takes your breath away, their capacity and their bravery and their incredible timing," Biden said of the special forces.

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 her, saying: "We're really grateful."

He declined to comment on her health.

The special forces rushed the hostages out of the compound and onto the helicopters, said the official.

There "is no reason" to believe the kidnappers were acting as part of a larger jihadist group, the official said. The area where the hostages were seized is known as a hub for pirates, rather than an area of Islamic militant activity.

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 the Somali Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, while criminals seeking ransoms seem to have carried out others.

President Barack Obama said he authorized the raid. He thanked the special operations forces for their "extraordinary courage and capabilities" 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 in a statement. "This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people."

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 mission was not complete at that point, the Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday. The hostages were safe at that point, but the American assault team was not yet safely out of Somalia, he said.

Panetta later said in a statement that the raid "is a testament to the superb skills of courageous service members who risked their lives to save others."

He monitored the rescue from the White House, Little said.

The raid comes nearly three years after Navy snipers killed three pirates who had taken hostage the captain of the Maersk Alabama off the coast of 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.

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