Even as President Obama publicly praised the Navy’s SEALs Tuesday night for killing Osama bin Laden, a team of the elite war-fighters was wrapping up the daring rescue of a pair of international mine-clearers, including an American woman, who had been held for three months by Somali thugs.
U.S. troops rescued Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted of Denmark in a pre-dawn chopper raid that killed at least seven abductors. After a gunfight, the SEALs whisked the pair to safety, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a Pentagon statement. No U.S. troops were wounded in the 3 a.m. raid near the Somali village of Hiimo Gaabo. Several kidnappers were captured and wounded. Buchanan may have been suffering from a kidney infection, which precipitated the raid. After a medical checkup in Djibouti, both will head home.
“Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our Special Operations forces, yesterday Jessica Buchanan was rescued and she is on her way home,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House early Wednesday. “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.”
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It marked the second acknowledged success by the usually-secretive SEALs. Last May – as Obama hobnobbed with reporters and celebrities at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner – the SEALs were taking out bin Laden. After giving a green light for the Somali mission on Monday, Obama received several briefings about it Tuesday before learning shortly before his State of the Union speech that the pair had been rescued. “Good job tonight!” Obama told Panetta as the President entered the House chamber. Obama didn’t mention the Somali operation during his address. Sitting as a guest with Michelle Obama during the speech was Navy Admiral — and SEAL — William McRaven, who orchestrated the bin Laden raid.
Two truckloads of pirates-turned-kidnappers seized Buchanan, 32, and Thisted, 60, Oct. 25, in central Somalia. The two were working for the Danish Refugee Council, which was conducting demining operations there. In his statement, Obama said he had spoken with Buchanan’s father and told him that Americans are thankful that his daughter is safe. “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people,” he said, “and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to bring their captors to justice.”
Somali remains – 20 years after U.S. troops came ashore under TV lights to calm and feed a violent and ungoverned land – still violent and ungoverned. Its young men routinely capture commercial ships sailing nearby in the Indian Ocean and hold their crews and cargo for ransom. Their tactics are now coming ashore. “We should remember that Mrs. Buchanan and Mr. Thisted were working to protect the people of Somalia when they were violently kidnapped,” Army General Carter Ham, chief of U.S. Africa Command, said following the successful mission. “It is my hope that all those who work in Somalia for the betterment of the Somali people can be free from the dangers of violent criminals.” Not to mention the Somalis themselves.