The U.S. Helped France Fail to Rescue a Hostage in Somalia

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The scene in Bulomarer, Somalia on late Friday night was like the end of Zero Dark Thirty gone terribly awry, as a clandestine hostage extraction mission turned into an hours-long shootout. The rescuers were trying to recover a French intelligence officer codenamed Denis Allex who's been chained up, beaten and moved from safe house to safe house by his Islamist captors for the past three years. But when the team of French soldiers ran into an Islamist roadblock a firefight broke out. By the end of it, one French commando and 17 Somalian Islamists had been shot dead, and French officials say that the hostage was almost certainly killed by his captors. Allex's captors, however, say that the hostage is still alive and "remains safe and far from the location of the battle."

Perhaps because of the epic failure, the United States has distanced itself from the mission and admitted a full two days later, when President Obama said that the U.S. had offered "limited technical support" ahead of the mission. "Obama said U.S. combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, if needed, but did not employ their weapons during the operation," explains the Associated Press. "The president said he directed U.S. forces to support the French rescue operation 'in furtherance of U.S. national security interests.'" Of course, since American boots didn't hit the ground and didn't save the French when the gun battle broke out, then we couldn't have helped that much.

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The failed mission comes at a bit of an awkward time for the French. Around the same time commandos rushed in to Allex's rescue, French jets launched an assault on the al Qaeda-allied soldiers that have been terrorizing Mali lately. They'd been avoiding taking action there, where the Islamist rebels have become increasingly aggressive and violent towards locals. However, the French air assault didn't go off without a hitch either. One pilot was killed when his plane was shot down. And so as the body count rises, the Islamists are as defiant as ever, which is a situation that Obama surely hoped to avoid by sending in American troops to help the French. But again, we obviously weren't much of a help.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.