US military fighter jets provided limited technical support to a failed French hostage rescue mission in Somalia, the Obama Administration said Sunday. The announcement came as an exceptional public admission of US combat activities in the Horn of Africa.
According to reports, two French soldiers have been killed in the secret operation that was aimed to rescue a French spy who had been held captive for more than three years in the southern Somalia town of Bulo Marer. Failure of the secret operation came to the limelight as the French military fights a separate African mission in Mali.
President Obama provided details of the US armed forces participation in the Friday night operation in a letter sent to the Congress.
"United States combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, if needed," the president wrote, according to CNN. "These aircraft did not employ weapons during the operation."
According to the French defense ministry, the hostage was a member of the secret service, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). Identified by his pseudonym Denis Allex, the captive was killed by members of the Islamist group al-Shabaab, his captors who confronted the French forces’ mission with massive vigor. Seventeen militants from the group were killed by French forces during the operation.
"Five helicopters attacked a house in the town," An anonymous al-Shabaab official said, according to the Guardian. "They dropped soldiers off the ground, so that they could reach their destination … but fighting has broken out.”
French authorities said they carried out the rescue operation after the terror group failed to talk for the hostage's liberation for years while keeping him captive in appalling conditions.
The Obama Administration said the president was duty-bound under the War Powers Act to inform Congress within 48 hours of the mission because US military aircrafts entered airspace of another country to support a combat operation.
US drones often carry out surveillance missions over Somalia and at times engage in combat operations against suspected members of al-Shabab. US troops have also conducted several operation missions in Somalia in the past, including a hostage rescue mission in January 2012. However, it is for the first time that Obama has felt obliged to disclose this specific operation.