U.S. officials on Wednesday were providing some new details on the dramatic helicopter rescue of an American aid worker and her Danish colleague in Somalia.
The Pentagon released a statement Wednesday morning on the U.S. military’s rescue, saying that Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Poul Hagen Thisted, 60, were not hurt in the operation.
The Pentagon also said there were no injuries to any of the U.S. troops involved. It also noted that the FBI was involved in the rescue.
Video: US military frees hostages in Somalia
The commandos that carried out the operation were drawn from the same Navy SEAL team involved in the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, according to the Associated Press. [Updated 9:31 a.m. Jan. 25: A U.S. official confirmed to The Times that the rescue was carried out by SEAL Team 6.]
Nine Somali hostage-takers were killed in the operation, and five others were wounded, witnesses in Somalia told the Los Angeles Times. [Updated 9:31 a.m. Jan. 25: A U.S. official said the raid occurred in the village of Hiimo Gaabo, south of Galkayo, where Buchanan and Thisted had been kidnapped by a gang of gunmen last October.]
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a statement that the rescued aid workers were “transported to safe location, where we will evaluate their health and make arrangements for them to return home.”
[Updated 9:31 a.m. Jan. 25: The team parachuted into the vicinity of the camp where the two hostages were being held and carried out the assault, the officials said.
The Pentagon decided to move after recently receiving intelligence on Buchanan and Thisted’s location. The decision to carry out the rescue now was made in part because of concerns that Buchanan’s health might have been deteriorating, the officials said.
“We had indications that she had health issues when they were kidnapped and that certainly contributed to the sense of urgency,” the officials said.]
Buchanan and Thisted, both from the Danish Demining Group, had been kidnapped in October in the central Somali town of Galkayo, which until then had been considered relatively safe for Westerners.
The pre-dawn raid was carried out by U.S. military helicopters and Navy SEALs operating out of an American base in the tiny East African nation of Djibouti, U.S. officials said. Witnesses said the operation took place after 2 a.m. local time and lasted about 15 minutes.
After the mission, officials said, the SEALs flew Buchanan and Thisted to the Djibouti base, Camp Lemonnier, where about 2,500 U.S. personnel are stationed.
[Updated 9:31 a.m. Jan. 25: The kidnappers were not believed to have ties to Al Shabab, the Somali militant group linked to Al Qaeda, or to have been pirates. U.S. officials believe they were interested in receiving ransom for the two Western prisoners.]
President Obama appeared to refer to the mission just before the State of the Union address Tuesday night when he pointed at Panetta, and said, “Good job tonight. Good job.”
In a statement early Wednesday, the president praised the SEALs for their courage and warned that the U.S. would not tolerate kidnappings of Americans.
“As commander in chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts,” he said.
“Jessica Buchanan was selflessly serving her fellow human beings when she was taken hostage by criminals and pirates who showed no regard for her health and well-being.
“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 that in a telephone conversation with Buchanan’s father Monday night he “told him that all Americans have Jessica in our thoughts and prayers” and that she “will soon be reunited with her family.”
The October kidnapping was one of a series of abductions by Somali pirates in a bid to extort high ransoms, with Westerners fetching the highest prices. Several kidnappings occurred late last year in Kenya, Somalia’s southern neighbor, triggering a Kenyan invasion in a bid to restore a stable government, an effort that continues to this day.
The U.S. has built up its military presence around Somalia in recent years, deploying surveillance drones, special operations units and ships off the coast, as part of a strategy to keep tabs on militants in the lawless country and pirates who regularly hijack ships off its coast.
U.S. officials are especially worried about Al Shabab, an Islamic militant group with ties to Al Qaeda that has taken control of large parts of southern Somalia. The group has often threatened Western aid groups in Somalia, though it has also allowed some organizations to provide assistance over the last year as famine afflicted the country.