U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six Executes Dramatic Long Distance Hostage Rescue Of American In Nigeria

U.S. Navy's SEAL Team Six Executes Dramatic Long Distance Hostage Rescue Of American In Nigeria
An MH-60S helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 6 takes off after completing a nighttime direct action raid scenario during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) E (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Gay/Released)

U.S. special operations forces, including members of the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six, have rescued an American citizen, who was kidnapped just days ago in the northwest African country of Niger, in a raid in neighboring Nigeria.

Intelligence gathered by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency using sophisticated cell phone surveillance was used to locate and rescue American hostage Philip Walton, 27, by members of the Navy’s elite “SEAL Team Six” or “DEVGRU” (Development Group) early Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

The raid, which was announced by the Pentagon later on the same day took place in central-northern Nigeria. Philip Walton, a U.S. citizen, was abducted from a village in the neighbouring country of Niger to the north of Nigeria six days ago on Monday.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters on Saturday, “U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 Oct. in northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men”. Hoffman added that Walton, “…is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State”.

The U.S. hostage, Philip Walton, was not named during the Pentagon press briefing. While unconfirmed, it is possible that Walton has been moved to Niger Airbase 201, a facility that has been significantly upgraded for expanded operations in the region.

A report by Eric Schmidt in the New York Times today said that, “Mr. Walton, the son of missionaries, lives with his wife and young daughter on a farm near Massalata, a small village close to the border with Nigeria. American and Nigerian officials had said that Mr. 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 officials said. The captors demanded nearly $1 million in ransom for Mr. Walton’s release.”

No U.S. personnel were injured during the raid, but reports indicate that all but one of the kidnappers were killed during the operation.

Details about the exact composition of the raiding force, beyond the inclusion of SEAL Team Six, are limited. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided intelligence about Walton’s location and Marine Corps special operations units deployed in northwest Africa helped to determine where he was being held, according to ABC News. 

The raid also included the extremely long-distance movement of forces via multiple C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft flights and the employment of a quartet of both CV-22B Osprey tilt-rotors and MC-130 special operations transports, the latter of which pushed through Rota, Spain, before continuing to their target. AC-130 gunships and a large contingent of aerial refueling tankers also supported this operation.

Part of the activity could be tracked online by means of ADS-B/Mode-S. AFSOC MC-130Js and CV-22 Ospreys, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, took part in the raid, supported by 6x KC-135s from RAF Mildenhall:

The operation by U.S. special operations began with a parachute insertion into the area according to reports. This insertion method is generally used only if other means of covert insertion are not immediately available.

It is also used if forces assigned to the raid must travel into the target area from a significant distance on longer range aircraft. There were approximately 30 special operations personnel involved in the raid.

Once the rescue force was inserted into the area by parachute, they moved on foot approximately three miles to the target area where the rescue was made. Following a “brief but intense firefight”, Walton was moved on foot to the extraction site where helicopters flew the hostage and rescue force to safety.

Here is the official statement from the White House:

Last night, at my direction, the United States military conducted a successful operation to rescue an American hostage in Nigeria, kidnapped just 96 hours earlier. United States Special Forces executed a daring nighttime operation to rescue their fellow American with exceptional skill, precision, and bravery. No United States Service Members were harmed. The former hostage is currently in good health and has been reunited with his family.

Securing the freedom of Americans held in captivity abroad has been a top national security priority of my Administration. Since the beginning of my Administration, we have rescued over 55 hostages and detainees in more than 24 countries. Today’s operation should serve as a stark warning to terrorists and criminal thugs who mistakenly believe they can kidnap Americans with impunity.

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