There was an intense firefight with surveillance drones buzzing overhead.
In the early hours of Saturday, October 31, 2020, U.S. Special Operations commandos carried out a predawn raid in northern Nigeria.
The mission was to rescue an American citizen who had been kidnapped from his home in southern Niger Republic and hidden in neighboring Nigeria.
The operation was carried out by commandos from the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6.
The rescued American’s name has been given as 27-year-old Philip Walton.
The Americans tracked the phones of his attackers to the hide-out where he had been held hostage.
“U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of Oct 31 in northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men,” said Jonathan Hoffman, who is the chief spokesman at the Pentagon.
Hoffman added that the rescued American “is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State.”
Another U.S official said Walton had been taken to an American air base in Niamey, Niger’s capital, to reunite with his family.
No American military personnel were injured during the operation. Several of the captors were killed in the raid, U.S. officials said.
U.S President Donald Trump who approved the mission, was visibly elated as he announced the success of the operation during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.
“Last night, our country’s brave warriors rescued an American hostage in Nigeria. Our nation salutes the courageous soldiers behind the daring nighttime rescue operation and celebrates the safe return of yet another American citizen!”, Trump said.
Trump would further praise the military for what he called a “brilliantly executed” operation.
“Last night our brave special forces rescued an American hostage,” he said as the crowd cheered and chanted “USA.”
“We had a mission set to a far-away land where they kidnapped an American citizen and the kidnappers wished they had never done it,” Trump said, adding that there were zero American casualties. “The other side suffered greatly, I can tell you that,” he said.
Walton is the son of missionaries. He lives with his wife and young daughter on a farm near Massalata, a small village close to the border with Nigeria.
The New York Times reports that the American and Nigerien officials had said that Walton was seized from his backyard on Monday in front of family members after assailants asked him for money.
He offered them $40 and was then taken away by the armed gunmen on motorbikes. The captors would go on to demand nearly $1 million in ransom for his release.
One American official said the assailants were criminals who intended to sell Walton to terrorist groups in the region.
The operation was organized quickly with the assistance of officials in Niger and Nigeria, the official said.
According to U.S. officials, the rescue started just after midnight local time when about 30 Navy commandos parachuted into the remote area where the kidnappers had taken Walton.
Members of the rescue team hiked about three miles until they came upon the captors’ small encampment in a copse of scrubland bushes and trees.
In the brief but intense firefight that ensued and with surveillance drones buzzing overhead, all but one of the half-dozen or so kidnappers were killed.
One captor escaped into the night.
Walton was not harmed in the gun battle, and he walked out to a makeshift landing zone, where a U.S. helicopter whisked him to safety.
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