"Leon, good job tonight. Good job tonight." That was the cryptic salutation that President Obama gave to Defense Secretary Panetta right before launching into his assertive State of the Union address last night. Even Wolf Blitzer picked up on it! Well, now we know what the President was talking about.
And yes, it involves some Navy SEALs.
So here's what (and who) went down:
U.S. helicopters swooped into central Somalia on Wednesday and rescued two hostages, an American and a Dane, from pirates in a rare raid into the Horn of Africa nation to free foreign captives.
American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Hagen Thisted were working for the Danish Demining Group (DDG) when they were kidnapped from the town of Galkayo in the semi-autonomous Galmudug region in October.
Galmudug's president, Mohamed Ahmed Alim, told Reuters nine pirates were killed and five captured during the resuce operation near the pirate haven of Haradheere.
"About 12 U.S. helicopters are now at Galkayo [airport]. We thank the U.S. Pirates have spoilt the whole region's peace and ethics. They are mafia," Alim said.
The rescued aid workers are on their way home after a pitstop at the American military base in Djibouti. Most reports indicate the captors lack(ed) ties to the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabaab, and are simply criminals taking advantage of Somalia's lawless countryside. Either way, only bad guys take hostage aid workers:
The American aid worker, a regional educational supervisor for the Danish Demining Group’s community safety program, has been identified by the blog Somalia Report as Jessica Buchanan, a former fourth-grade teacher from Rosslyn, Va. The aid group, which specializes in clearing land mines and other unexploded ordnance from former conflict zones, has been operating in that part of Somalia since 2007.
Some additional details and context about the raid:
As many as six helicopters were involved in the operation, using the cover of darkness to fly low and land at the village where the pair were being held, landing soon after 2am. The apparently well-planned operation took less than an hour and no US troops were injured, it is understood.
It is the first time that Washington has ordered its troops into lawless Somalia on a hostage rescue mission, and carried a huge risk of public outcry in America if it had gone wrong. No US boots have overtly been on Somali soil since the infamous Black Hawk Down debacle in 1993.
While the raid seemingly went off without a hitch, there remain several other Western hostages, including an American journalist, in Somalia. So this will likely set a precedent for future actions. I don't see an alternative given that aid workers are desperately needed in Somalia, and these pirates and terrorists haven't gotten the message to stop doing this shit:
In Copenhagen, Danish Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal said his government is following the situation minute by minute. Nevertheless, he stressed, “We do not negotiate with people who take hostages.” He didn’t explain what the alternative might be.
Well, President Obama and America's Navy SEALs just demonstrated what the alternative looks like. Congratulations to the SEALs for their acute professionalism and service to country. And another tip of the hat to an administration that actually knows how to shoot straight.
After the SOTU, President Obama called Jessica's father to let him know she was safe.
And Vice President Biden was characteristically blunt on CBS this morning. His message to pirates and terrorists: "We will find you. We will protect America's interests."
The operation itself had been in the making for days, with Obama deciding to move forward after U.S. officials identified a narrow window of opportunity to act.
New intelligence emerged last week showing that the health of the American hostage, Jessica Buchanan, was deteriorating rapidly. U.S. officials also gleaned what they called "actionable intelligence" on the kidnapping.
After a 9 p.m. briefing on Monday with his top national security advisers, Obama authorized the rescue operation. On Tuesday, the military decided it was time to move and activated the assault team.
And there was parachuting:
The U.S. special forces parachuted into a spot near the vicinity of Gadaado in central Somalia, moving on foot to the encampment where the hostages were being held, a U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Needless to say, this was an incredibly dangerous mission, which the Pentagon is describing as a "joint operation" not exclusive to one service. It is a testament to the outstanding training, skill, and teamwork of all those involved that everyone came home from this mission in one piece.