Navy SEALs rescue hostages in Somalia

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — Held captive since last fall, an ailing American woman and a Danish man are safely on their way home after a bold, dark-of-night rescue by U.S. Navy SEALs. The commandos slipped into a Somali encampment, shot and killed nine captors and whisked the hostages to freedom.

The raid’s success was welcome news for the hostages and their families, for the military and for President Barack Obama, who was delivering his State of the Union speech as the mission was wrapping up Tuesday night. He did not mention it in his address but dropped a hint upon arriving in the House chamber by telling Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “Good job tonight.”

It was the second splashy SEAL Team 6 success in less than a year, following last May’s killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The SEALs apparently encountered some degree of resistance from the kidnappers at the encampment. One U.S. official said Wednesday that there was a firefight but the length and extent of the battle were unclear.

Pentagon spokesmen said they could not confirm a gun battle, although one defense official said it was likely that the SEALs killed the kidnappers rather than capture them because they encountered armed resistance or the threat of resistance.

Special operations forces, trained for clandestine, small-team missions, have become a more prominent tool in the military’s kit since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration is expected to announce on Thursday that it will invest even more heavily in that capability in coming years.

After planning and rehearsal, the Somalia rescue was carried out by SEAL Team 6, officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a secret mission. The same outfit did the bin Laden mission, the biggest counter-terror success of Obama’s presidency. It was not clear whether any team members participated in both operations.

One official said the SEALs parachuted from U.S. Air Force aircraft before moving on foot, apparently undetected, to the outdoor encampment where they found American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Poul Hagen Thisted, a 60-year-old Dane, who had been kidnapped in Somalia last fall. The raid happened near the town of Adado.