President Obama divulged today that the U.S. military played a role in a failed attempt by French commandos to free a hostage in Somalia on Friday.
In a letter to Congress released this evening the president says service members “provided limited technical support” in the raid — likely referring to intelligence or surveillance assistance — although he denies the forces took direct action in the assault on the compound. The NATO member state was attempting to free a French intelligence agent that had been captured by Islamic militant group al-Shabab three years ago.
The hostage and at least once French soldier died in the ensuing firefight, which also killed a reported 17 militants, according to the French government. A town elder told The Associated Press the commandos had also shot Somalis who had turned on flashlights during the nighttime raid attempting to discern what the commotion was hitting their streets.
Al-Shabab claims the French agent is still in their custody along with a soldier from the raid, but has offered no proof.
In his letter to Congress alerting them to his deployment of U.S. forces, Obama also writes that U.S. aircraft “briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, if needed,” but did not deploy weapons. An administration official confirmed to ABC News the aircraft were jet fighters, and were not called upon by the French to assist.
The news came as France expands military operations in another African state, sending warplanes into northern Mali to bomb al Qaeda-linked rebels.
A Twitter posting from the office of Mali’s president states the United States has agreed to offer logistical support in that country, although American officials have not announced specifics. The Pentagon has reportedly said it is still weighing options in the West African state, which already sees American surveillance drones in its airspace.
ABC’s Bazi Kanani and Luis Martinez contributed to this report, which has been updated.