An American woman rescued by U.S. Navy SEALs from Somali pirates arrived Wednesday at a military base on the Italian island of Sicily for medical screenings and other evaluations before heading home, CBS News confirmed Thursday.
A U.S. defense official said that American Jessica Buchanan, 32, is meeting her family at Naval Air Station Sigonella, which is the hub of U.S. Navy air operations in the Mediterranean and hosts an Italian air force base. It is unclear which family members are there to meet her. Her father, John Buchanan, was still in Bedford, Va., Thursday afternoon.
CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports Buchanan could return to the United States within a matter of days.
She was rescued with Poul Hagen Thisted, a 60-year-old Dane, after a bold, dark-of-night rescue by SEAL Team 6. The commandos slipped into a Somali encampment, shot and killed nine captors and whisked the hostages to freedom.
A Western official said the rescuers and the freed hostages flew by helicopter to Camp Lemonnier in the nearby Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been released publicly. A key U.S. ally in the region, Djibouti hosts the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a U.S.-led group organized under U.S. Africa Command.
It was the second splashy SEAL Team 6 success in less than a year, following last May's killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
The SEALs encountered some degree of resistance from the kidnappers at the encampment, two U.S. officials said, and there was a firefight during an approximately 1- to 1 1/2-hour operation.
One defense official said it was likely that the SEALs killed the kidnappers rather than capture them because they encountered armed resistance or the threat of resistance.
The Pentagon was mostly tight-lipped about details on Wednesday, citing a need to preserve the secrecy that can give SEALs and other special operations forces an edge against the terrorists, criminals and others they are ordered to kill or capture around the world under hazardous and often hostile conditions.
Special operations forces, trained for clandestine, small-team missions, have become a more prominent tool in the military's kit since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration is expected to announce on Thursday that it will invest even more heavily in that capability in coming years.
After planning and rehearsal, the Somalia rescue was carried out by SEAL Team 6, officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a secret mission. The same outfit did the bin Laden mission, the biggest counter-terror success of Obama's presidency. It was not clear whether any team members participated in both operations.