Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted, two aid workers held hostage in Somalia since October, have reportedly been freed in a rescue raid by US Navy SEAL Team 6, the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden in Abottabad last March, two US officials said, the Associated Press reported.
American commandos stormed the area in central Somalia where the captives were being held by gunmen late last night, the New York Times reported. Nine of the captors were killed in a shootout and as many as six others captured, local sources said. No US casualties were reported.
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Buchanan, 32, and Thisted, 60, were unharmed and have since been taken to a US military base in neighboring Djibouti, an unnamed Western official told the Associated Press. Both of them will soon be reunited with their families, said the NGO for which they worked, the Danish Refugee Council.
Their rescue had become increasingly urgent for health reasons, Denmark's Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal told Danish TV, saying that "one of the hostages has a disease that was very serious and that had to be solved." US Vice President Joe Biden told ABC News the operation was ordered because Buchanan's health was "failing."
She and Thisted were kidnapped on Oct. 25 near the north-central town of Galkayo, which according to GlobalPost's Tristan McConnell is fast becoming Somalia's "kidnap capital." Last weekend, gunman abducted an American-German journalist near Galkayo airport.
Somali pirates who carry out kidnappings at sea have begun branching out into inland abductions as security on ships is tightened, AFP reported. They target foreigners in order to demand large ransoms, making Somalia one of the most dangerous places in the world for international aid workers.
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The mission involved at least six military helicopters and lasted less than an hour, officials told Agence France Presse. According to the BBC, it was America's highest profile military action in Somalia since it withdrew its forces from the country in 1994.
President Barack Obama appeared to refer to the operation last night when, as he entered the Capitol to give his State of Union address, he pointed at Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and said, "Good job tonight."
Obama has since confirmed that he personally authorized the mission, which he said sent another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people."
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Obama was on the phone with Buchanan's father minutes after delivering the State of the Union address to tell him that his daughter was safe.