Skip to main content

U.S. supported France's failed hostage rescue in Somalia

By CNN Staff
January 14, 2013 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
An undated TV grab shows Denis Allex, a French hostage allegedly held -- and possibly killed -- by Somali militants.
An undated TV grab shows Denis Allex, a French hostage allegedly held -- and possibly killed -- by Somali militants.
  • President Obama details U.S. military involvement in a hostage rescue in Somalia
  • French forces failed to free an intelligence agent held by an al Qaeda-linked group
  • French officials say 1 soldier died, 1 is missing, and the hostage is believed dead
  • U.S. aircraft were in Somali airspace but didn't fire, Obama told Congressional leaders

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

(CNN) -- U.S. troops lent "limited technical support" in France's bloody and unsuccessful bid in Somalia to rescue an intelligence agent who'd been held hostage for years, President Barack Obama said Sunday.

Obama detailed the U.S. military involvement in the Friday night mission in a letter sent to the leaders of the nation's two legislative chambers. The letter was released publicly as well.

Are you there? Send your photo, videos, but please stay safe.

While U.S. forces "provided limited technical support," they "took no direct part in the assault on the compound where it was believed the French citizen was being held hostage," the president explained.

In addition, U.S. military aircraft were available but were not used.

"United States combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, if needed," the president wrote. "These aircraft did not employ weapons during the operation."

French militant operations in Africa

Obama said he directed the U.S. troops' involvement in the operation "in furtherance of U.S. national security interests, and pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as commander in chief and chief executive."

By 8 p.m., all U.S. forces were out of Somalia.

The moves came after French forces engaged in a fierce gunbattle with militants in their attempt to rescue hostage Denis Allex, who was a member of the DGSE, France's equivalent of the CIA and a part of its defense ministry.

The skirmish in Bulo Marer, about 75 miles northwest of the capital Mogadishu, ended with a French soldier and 17 Islamist fighters dead, according to the French Defense Ministry. Another French soldier is missing.

French bid to rescue hostage fails

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Paris on Saturday that "everything leads us to believe that Denis Allex was gunned down by his captors." French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, lamented the "sacrifice" of the two French soldiers and "maybe the assassination" of the hostage.

But the al-Shabaab militia, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, claimed Allex is unharmed and being held in a new location. The group said in a statement that they'll decide the hostage's fate in the next two days.

Allex was abducted on July 14, 2009, while on a mission in Mogadishu in support of the transitional Somali government, the French Defense Ministry said. French media reports suggest that Denis Allex is a pseudonym for the military serviceman.

French officials said they launched the rescue attempt after the terror group failed to negotiate for the hostage's release for years while holding him in inhumane conditions.

The U.S. military has been involved in Somalia before, notably in the ill-fated 1993 Battle of Mogadishu that ended with 18 American soldiers killed.

U.S. forces were in Somalia to try to capture powerful Somali warlord Mohammed Aidid from his stronghold in the war-torn capital and take him to a ship anchored off the nearby coast. But by the end of the 16-hour battle in which commandos tried to seize several of Aidid's top lieutenants, 18 elite Army Rangers and hundreds of Somalis lay dead in the streets of Mogadishu.

The movie inspired the best-selling book "Black Hawk Down" by Mark Bowden and an eponymous, Oscar Award-winning movie directed by Ridley Scott.

Fourteen years later, the U.S. military re-emerged in Somalia by conducting airstrikes targeting al Qaeda-linked operatives in southern Somalia. Other strikes followed, including one in 2008 that killed an al-Shabaab leader and several other senior leaders of his group, according to local officials.

CNN's Greg Botelho and Pierre Meilhan contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.