The rescue of Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Thisted was a perfect hostage rescue operation performed by the U.S. Navy most elite unit.
In the shady world of Special Operations Forces, missions are mostly classified. Many times, they happen and the public doesn’t even know it happened. It wasn’t the case with the operation that led to the rescue of Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Thisted.
With the increased presence of the international naval forces off of the Horn of Africa and increased security aboard ships traversing those waters, Somali pirates have had to take a different tack in order to continue the “work” that sustains them. Instead of capturing hostages at sea, they’ve begun taking them among aid workers who are trying to improve the lives of Somalis, especially those who are from wealthy western countries.
In the last quarter of 2011, two American aid workers, Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Thisted worked in Galkayo, North-Central Somalia. Their mission was to help Somali people with ongoing demining projects supported by the Danish Refugee Council. They were easy prey for Somali pirates who captured them and demanded ransom for their release.
Upon their capture, the Council tried to negotiate with the captors. Attempts by the Council to enlist local Somali elders and traditional leaders to assist in freeing the hostages were unsuccessful, and the pirates refused an offer of US$1.5 million ransom. During the time, the hostages were transferred between few locations in Galkayo.
With Jessica Buchanan’s health declining, then-President Obama was informed that she had a potentially life-threatening medical condition. It was enough for him to gave U.S. Special Operations forces the green light to do what they do best.
In January 2012, almost 4 months after they were captured, U.S. Special Operations Forces pinned down the location where hostages were held. According to the sources familiar with the raid, the hostages were guarded by between nine and twelve pirates at a walled-off compound in a remote northern area of Somalia.
The raid force was compiled from the several different United States Special Operations Forces stationed at Camp Lemonnier in nearby Djibouti as well as the other who were aboard ships off the coast. That also included elements of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as SEAL Team 6.
On January 25, 2012, two dozen Navy SEALs jumped out into the night from a C-130 Hercules, 2 miles north of the Somali town of Cadaado. They landed in a remote area a few clicks from the compound where pirates held the hostages. To their target, operators from the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 traveled by foot. Moving through the shadows, they were ready to set off a rescue mission.
According to locals, the pirates spent all of the previous evening chewing Qat, a plant that gives the chewer an amphetamine-like effect.
The fierce firefight erupted soon as operators entered a compound. The battle was short and ended with all nine pirates dead. The rescue of Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Thisted was on a halfway. Both of them were secured and in good condition. Easy as they infiltrated the camp, the SEALs moved to the exfil. Mission accomplished.
A first-hand account of the raid appears in former DEVGRU operator Justin. K Sheffield’s 2020 book MOB VI: A Seal Team Six Operator’s Battles in the Fight for Good Over Evil. According to this, three pirates were also captured during the raid.
Afterward, the two hostages were flown to the U.S. Naval Mission in Djibouti. SEAL Team 6 operators, who were still riding high from the Operation Neptune Spear (a successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan) the previous year, had another feather in their collective caps.
At home in Jessica Buchanan’s native Ohio, Jessica’s father John answered a surprising late-night phone call:
“He said, ‘John, this is Barack Obama. I’m calling because I have great news for you. Your daughter has been rescued by our special operations forces.’
The Buchanan family had no idea the rescue mission would take place at all, let alone that night.
“I’m extremely proud and glad to be an American,” John Buchanan told CNN. “I didn’t know this was going to transpire. I’m glad it did.”