Over the weekend, US troops freed an American hostage who had recently been kidnapped and was being held in Nigeria, Africa. President Trump spoke of a daring night rescue operation by “brave warriors.”
How Did US Forces Rescue the Hostage?
US forces, including special operators from SEAL Team 6, rescued Philip Walton, 27, who was taken Tuesday from his home in neighboring southern Niger. According to the Pentagon’s statement: “US 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.”
The statement from Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman added that “this American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the US Department of State. No US military personnel were injured during the operation.” Walton is now in the residence of the US ambassador in Niamey. The Pentagon did not provide further information about the identity of the freed individual.
Walton’s Kidnapping and Trump’s Rescue Order
On Tuesday, local authorities reported the kidnapping of an American in the village of Massalata in southwest Niger, which lies on the border with Nigeria. Walton, who lives and works as a farmer near the Nigerian border, was kidnapped by six men armed with assault rifles who arrived on motorcycles at his home in the village of Massalata, southern Niger, early Tuesday.
In a statement made on Saturday afternoon during a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump said that under his instructions the US military had conducted a successful operation to rescue an American hostage in Nigeria who had been “abducted 96 hours earlier.” According to Trump, United States Special Forces had carried out a “daring night operation” to rescue their fellow American “with extraordinary skill, precision, and valor”. Trump added that the freed individual was currently in good health and was reunited with his family.
On Twitter, the president also praised the soldiers who conducted the operation as “brave warriors”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also commented on the successful mission and said that the United States was committed to the safe return of all US citizens kidnapped and that the White House had fulfilled that commitment the previous night.
Nigeria and Niger: Danger Zone of Islamic Terrorism
Niger and Nigeria share a long border. More than three-fourths of Niger, which is north of Nigeria, is covered by the Sahara Desert and the Sahel, a region of dry grasslands and savannas that extends across Africa just south of the desert.
Niger and northern Nigeria are both predominantly Muslim. However, in recent years both regions have become a hotbed of Islamic militants.
Several terrorist groups are active in the Sahel region. Some of them have sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda or ISIS. The level of terrorism activity has Europe conducting operations in the area as part of a shared effort of countering the terrorism threat that also impacts the European continent.
There are repeated attacks by armed groups in Niger, especially in the country’s west and south-east.
For example, four US soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in 2017, sparking a debate about the US role in the sparsely populated West African desert, home to some of the world’s poorest countries.
More Foreign Hostages are Still Being Held in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger
Islamist insurgents are currently holding at least six foreign hostages in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Six French and two Nigerians were recently killed in a nature park south of the capital Niamey in Niger.
Islamists have raised millions in ransom payments with the kidnapping of individuals in recent years. The US government has often criticized other countries for their payment instead of conducting missions similar to SEAL Team 6.