U.S. Raid Frees American, Dane Held In Somalia

U.S. military forces flew into Somalia on a nighttime helicopter raid and freed two Western hostages, an American and a Dane. President Obama had personally authorized the mission to retrieve the aid workers.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Somalia, U.S. Navy SEALs rescued in a daring raid two relief workers who had been held hostage there. One is an American. They were working for a Danish relief organization when they were kidnapped by Somali pirates last October. In a statement this morning, President Obama said Jessica Buchanan, the American, is on her way home.

For more on this story, we turn to NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who joins us now live. Good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: It was an overnight raid, though it was yesterday Somali time. Tell us more.

BOWMAN: Well, Renee, what we know at this point is about two dozen Navy SEALs came from a neighboring country. We're not being told which one. They arrived by C-130 cargo aircraft at an encampment in northern Somalia. They killed nine pirates during the operation and rescued American Jessica Buchanan and also a colleague of hers, a Danish colleague. They had been held since last October.

Neither the hostages nor the SEALs suffered any injuries. The SEALs then left with the hostages by helicopter. And it was all over, I'm told, in about an hour. And they were watching it all live at the Pentagon, at the National Military Command Center. And it was all over by around seven o'clock Eastern Time last night. Plenty of time to notify the president before his State of the Union address.

MONTAGNE: Now, these pirates, do you know anymore about them?

BOWMAN: Well, you know, it's funny. They're calling them criminals, some are calling them pirates. But the term you're hearing most now is criminals. And the other thing is there's no indication at this point that they were a part of any terrorist organization, the most prominent one there is al-Shabaab organization which operates in that area. But again, at this point, they're just calling them plain criminals.

MONTAGNE: And what exactly were these two aid workers doing in Somalia?

BOWMAN: Well, Jessica Buchanan and her colleague were working for a Danish demining company. And of course...

MONTAGNE: Demining meaning land mines.

BOWMAN: Exactly, right. And, of course, in Somalia there's been a lot of fighting over the past decades, huge number of land mines there to clear. They have plenty of work to do of course. They were also told that they worked with refugees along the Somalia-Kenyan border as well. And we're told also that President Obama called Jessica Buchanan's father last night to give him the good news.

MONTAGNE: And the timing, you're talking about last night, this explains a somewhat mysterious comment that the president made, tossed out to the secretary of defense who was in the audience for the State of the Union address.

BOWMAN: That's right. The president, as he entered the House chamber last night before his speech, was heard saying to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, good job tonight. So, there were speculations something had happened. And the other thing was Admiral William McRaven who heads the Special Operations Command was in the audience last night well.

And one other thing we want to mention too, we're told that SEAL Team 6 took part in this operation. And that's the same organization that took down Osama bin Laden, but not necessarily the same team members. And we're also told that Jessica Buchanan, her health was deteriorating, we're told. She had some type of a health condition, so they felt they had to move quickly. And they actual intelligence to help them pinpoint exactly where she was being held.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Tom Bowman on news that two hostages, one an American, had been rescued by a U.S. Navy SEAL team.

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