AMERICAN Navy Seals special forces killed six armed Fulani herdsmen in Sokoto State yesterday when they carried out a commando-style rescue operation to free the son of missionary Philip Walton who had been kidnapped in neighbouring Niger Republic.
In the first such operation of its kind, the US Air Force Special Operations flew the Navy Seals into Nigeria after the young hostage was taken there by the herdsmen. Philipe Nathan Walton was taken from his farm in Massalata village in southern Niger Republic, close to the Nigerian border early on Tuesday morning and driven into Nigeria.
Mr Walton kept camels, sheep and poultry and grew mangos near the border with Nigeria, was kidnapped by six men armed with AK-47 assault rifles who arrived on motorcycles at his home. They demanded a $1m ransom from his father for his release who has lived in Niger Republic for 30 years.
However, the CIA provided intelligence leading to Mr Walton’s whereabouts while the Marine Special Operations troops in Africa helped locate him. Yesterday morning, about 30 US Navy commandos parachuted into the remote area where the kidnappers had taken Mr Walton, then hiked about three miles until they came upon the captors’ small encampment.
When they arrived there, an intense but brief gunfight followed in which one captor escaped but six were killed in the firefight. Mr Walton was not harmed and whisked from the camp to a makeshift landing zone where a US helicopter airlifted him to safety.
Apparently, all but one of the seven captors was killed in the mission described as a precision hostage rescue. One US official who pointed out that the kidnappers were all dead before they knew what happened, said there were no indication that Mr Walton’s kidnapping was terrorism-related and that it was sheer kidnapping for ransom.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said: “US forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 October in northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men. This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the US Department of State.
“No US military personnel were injured during the operation. We appreciate the support of our international partners in conducting this operation. The United States will continue to protect our people and our interests anywhere in the world.”
Governor Abdourahamane Moussa of Niger Republic’s Tahoua Region where Massalata is located, confirmed that hat six men on motorbikes armed with AK-47s came to Mr Walton’s property and kidnapped him. He added that after demanding money, the men took him with them in the direction of the Nigerian border.