US forces rescued an American citizen in Nigeria on Saturday, days after he was kidnapped by gunmen in the south of neighbouring Niger and apparently taken across the border, the Pentagon said.
The hostage, Philip Walton, was abducted Monday night on the outskirts of Massalata, a village about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border with Nigeria.
Walton is safe and in the care of the US State Department, the Pentagon said in a statement.
“U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 October in Northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men. This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State. No U.S military personnel were injured during the operation.
“We appreciate the support of our international partners in conducting this operation. The United States will continue to protect our people and our interests anywhere in the world,” Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman said in the statement.
The mission, which was several hours long, was conducted by the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 who were flown to the region by Air Force special operations, a US official with knowledge of the operation told CNN.
The US forces who conducted the mission killed six of the seven captors, the official said. The US believes the captors have no known affiliation with any terror groups operating in the region, and were more likely bandits seeking money
“The United States is committed to the safe return of all US citizens taken captive,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate statement.
“We delivered on that commitment late last night in Nigeria, where some of our bravest and most skilled warriors rescued a US citizen,” he added.
President Donald Trump hailed the rescue operation.
“Big win for our very elite U.S. Special Forces today. Details to follow!,” he tweeted.
Niger’s Defence Minister, Issoufou Katambe had earlier confirmed the hostage release to AFP without giving details about how he had been freed.
Local officials had said during the week that the kidnappers had called the man’s father to demand a ransom, though the family did not confirm this.
Walton had been living in Massalata with his wife and child for two years, according to his father, who himself has been in Niger for nearly 30 years.
Niger lies in the heart of the vast Sahel region, which is struggling with a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
US forces have two drone bases in Agadez and Dirkou, in northern Niger. Their aircraft provide significant support to the French anti-jihadist Barkhane force.
In October 2017, four American Special Forces soldiers and five Nigerien soldiers were killed in an ambush in Tongo Tongo, near Mali, in South Western Niger.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
Several Westerners are currently being held hostage in the region, including American aid worker, Jeffery Woodke, who was kidnapped in the central town of Abalak in 2016 and is believed to be in neighbouring Mali now.
Three Europeans, including 75-year-old French charity worker, Sophie Petronin, were released by their captors in Mali earlier this month under a prisoner swap arranged by the Malian government.
In August, six French aid workers and two Niger citizens were killed in the Koure wildlife reserve west of Niamey, in an attack claimed by the so-called Islamic State group.