Administration

US forces rescue American citizen held hostage in Nigeria

U.S. forces have rescued an American citizen held hostage in northern Nigeria, the Pentagon announced Saturday, with President Trump hailing the rescue mission as a "big win" for U.S. special forces.

"Big win for our very elite U.S. Special Forces today," Trump tweeted Saturday morning. He followed up by praising the "courageous soldiers" who carried out the mission.

"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!" he tweeted.

The Pentagon confirmed that it launched a successful operation early Saturday to free an American hostage held in northern Nigeria.

Officials did not initially name the rescued U.S. citizen, but multiple outlets identified the person as Philip Walton, 27. White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump and the National Counterterrorism Center later confirmed the hostage's identity on Twitter.

"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," said Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of Defense for public affairs. 

"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," he added.

Ivanka Trump thanked those involved in the mission, tweeting, "We will NEVER abandon any American taken hostage!"

ABC News reported that the elite SEAL Team Six conducted the operation and killed all but one of the seven captors.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for further details.

The State Department first confirmed on Tuesday that a U.S. citizen was kidnapped in Niger in an area near the Nigeria border where al Qaeda-linked militants and the Islamic State's Boko Haram are known to operate. 

Local media outlets said the kidnapped man was a missionary. Officials told ABC that the captors were likely from an armed group that they do not consider terror-related, though terrorist groups often buy hostages.

One U.S. official told The New York Times that the captors planned to sell Walton to terrorist groups in the area.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies said in July that the Sahel region of Africa has seen a nearly sevenfold spike in terrorist attacks over the past three years.

National Counterterrorism Center Director Chris Miller touted the successful mission Saturday as a warning to armed groups in the region who may consider targeting U.S. citizens.

"This is a clear message to all criminal and terrorist related groups everywhere that the United States Government's reach is infinite and we will do everything within our great capabilities to bring our citizens home," he said.

 

The rescue gives Trump a positive news story to tout just three days before the Nov. 3 presidential election, with polls showing him trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Still, tens of millions of votes have already been cast, and surveys show the vast majority of voters have already made up their minds.

Trump and Biden are crisscrossing the country this weekend in a flurry of final campaign stops heading into Election Day.

Updated: 1:51 p.m.

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