MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The same U.S. Navy SEAL unit that killed Osama bin Laden parachuted into Somalia under cover of darkness early Wednesday and crept up to an outdoor camp where an American woman and Danish man were being held hostage. Soon, nine kidnappers were dead and both hostages were freed.
President Barack Obama authorized the mission by SEAL Team 6 two days earlier, and minutes after he gave his State of the Union address to Congress he was on the phone with the American’s father to tell him his daughter was safe.
The raiders came in quickly, catching the guards as they were sleeping after having chewed the narcotic leaf qat for much of the evening, a pirate who gave his name as Bile Hussein told the Associated Press by phone. Hussein said he was not present at the site but had spoken with other pirates who were, and that they told him nine pirates had been killed in the raid and three were “taken away.”
A U.S. official confirmed media reports that the SEALs parachuted into the area before moving on foot to the target. The official said SEAL Team 6 carried out the mission, the same team that killed al Qaeda leader bin Laden in Pakistan last May. The raid happened near the Somali town of Adado.
The hostage rescue was carried out by the same SEAL unit behind the operation in Pakistan last May that killed bin Laden, two U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity to discuss the operation. The unit is the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as SEAL Team 6. One official said that the team parachuted into the area before moving on foot to the target.
New intelligence emerged last week that Buchanan’s health was “deteriorating rapidly,” so Obama directed his security team to develop a rescue plan, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly. A Danish Refugee Council official, Mary Ann Olsen, said that Buchanan was “not that ill” but needed medicine.
“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,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “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.”
A Western official said the rescuers and the freed hostages flew by helicopter to a U.S. military base called Camp Lemonnier in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been released publicly. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Camp Lemonnier just over a month ago. A key U.S. ally in this region, Djibouti has the only U.S. base in sub-Saharan Africa. It hosts the military’s Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
Buchanan lived in neighboring Kenya before Somalia, and worked at a school in Nairobi called the Rosslyn Academy from 2007-09, said Rob Beyer, the dean of students. He described the American as easy to laugh and adventurous.
“There have been tears on and around the campus today,” Beyer said. “She was well-loved by all her students.”
The timing of the raid may have been made more urgent by Buchanan’s medical condition. The Danish Refugee Council had been trying to work with Somali elders to win the hostages’ freedom but had found little success.
“One of the hostages has a disease that was very serious and that had to be solved,” Danish Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal told Denmark’s TV2 channel. Soevndal did not provide any more details. Soevndal congratulated the Americans for the raid.