An infamous unit of the United States Special Forces have conducted a successful operation to free a Christian missionary who was abducted in the West African nation of Niger last week. Philip Nathan Walton, 27, was kidnapped last Tuesday from his farm in the remote southern Niger village of Massalata, before being taken across the border into neighbouring Nigeria.
It is unclear whether a specific terror group was responsible, though there are reports that a ransom of $1 million had been sought from Walton's missionary father, and that his captors had threatened to sell him to an extremist group.
A subsequent multi-agency operation, involving the CIA and the elite Navy SEAL Team Six culminated in a dramatic "precision" hostage rescue mission during which Walton was freed and all but one of the seven captors were killed. "They were all dead before they knew what happened," one counterterrorism source with knowledge of the operation told ABC News.
Jonathan Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said of the rescue:
“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.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added: "Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our military, the support of our intelligence professionals, and our diplomatic efforts, the hostage will be reunited with his family. We will never abandon any American taken hostage."
Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and retired CIA officer said that preparations for Walton's rescue were likely underway shortly after he was abducted.
The urgency to rescue any kidnapped Americans was a message reiterated by President Trump, who, following the successful operation, said that "it was something that had to get done because they were playing with American citizens – we can't let that happen".
"Securing the freedom of Americans held in captivity abroad has been a top national security priority of my Administration," he said.
Trump added that upon his direction, the United States military had "conducted a successful operation to rescue an American hostage in Nigeria, kidnapped just 96 hours earlier". Trump said US Special Forces personnel embarked on a "daring nighttime operation to rescue their fellow American with exceptional skill, precision, and bravery".
"No United States Service Members were harmed," he confirmed. "The former hostage is currently in good health and has been reunited with his family."