U.S. special forces on Saturday carried out a daring raid in Nigeria to rescue Philipe Walton, a 27-year-old American citizen taken hostage by armed gunmen earlier this week, Pentagon officials said.
Mr. Walton and his family live on a Niger farm near the border with Nigeria. He was reportedly being held for ransom after his abduction Oct. 26.
Defense Department officials offered little detail on the specifics of the mission but said that allies in Africa assisted with the operation. Officials also indicated that no ransom was paid to recover Mr. Walton.
“U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 October in Northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. “This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State. No U.S military personnel were injured during the operation.”
“We appreciate the support of our international partners in conducting this operation,” he said. “The United States will continue to protect our people and our interests anywhere in the world.”
President Trump tweeted Saturday morning, “Big win for our very elite U.S. Special Forces today. Details to follow!”
Later, speaking to reporters before leaving Washington for campaign rallies in Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump praised the rescue operation as “a tremendous event.” “It was something that had to get done,” the president said. “They [kidnappers] were playing with American citizens. We can’t let that happen.”
He said of the special forces, “These are great people, these are the best in the world. There’s nobody like them.”
It is not believed that the armed captors were associated with al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or any other terrorist group, U.S. officials told The Associated Press. Armed kidnappings are common in the region and often have no motive other than money.
But it is likely that U.S. military and diplomatic officials were concerned that Mr. Walton ultimately could be sold to an extremist group and possibly executed, adding a sense of urgency to efforts to rescue him.
The presence of U.S. forces in Africa remains something of a mystery. The Trump administration has accelerated an air war in Somalia against the extremist group al Shabab over the past four years, and American troops also occasionally carry out special forces missions on the ground in that country in addition to training and advising Somali government troops.
American forces also have been active in Niger. In 2018, four American service members were killed in an ambush by militants near the village of Tongo Tongo. That incident sparked a backlash among some lawmakers who said they were largely in the dark about U.S. military presence in the country.
— Dave Boyer contributed to this story.