The U.S. ambassador and the top American military spokesman held out hope the operation on the outskirts of Baghdad could lead to a break in the captivity of American reporter Jill Carroll, a freelance writer for The Christian Science Monitor who was abducted Jan. 7.
The military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, said the 8 a.m. rescue of the Briton and two Canadians from a "kidnapping cell" was based on information divulged by a man during interrogation only three hours earlier. The man was captured by U.S. forces on Wednesday night.
A senior Iraqi military officer told The Associated Press, however, that the operation had been under way for two days in the Abu Ghraib suburb west of Baghdad, site of the notorious prison. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position, said U.S. and British forces refused to give him other details.
Lynch said future operations will "probably" be a result of what investigators are learning now.
When asked about freelance journalist Jill Carroll, Lynch says he has no information he can discuss. Except for videotapes delivered to Arab TV outlets, Carroll hasn't been seen since she was kidnapped in Baghdad in January.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canadian forces also took part in the rescue operation, although their precise role was unclear.
The men are now safe inside the British embassy, inside the green zone, reports CBS News correspondent Lara Logan. A British Embassy spokesman says the men will fly home in the next few days and that they are all very anxious to be reunited with their families.
In other recent developments:
No kidnappers were present when the troops broke into the house where the peace activists were discovered with their hands tied.
"They were bound, they were together, there were no kidnappers in the areas," Lynch told a news briefing.
The freed men were Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and Briton Norman Kember, 74. The men, members of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams, were kidnapped Nov. 26 along with an American colleague, Tom Fox, 54.
Fox's body was found this month, shot and dumped in western Baghdad.
The three freed members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were taken to a hospital for observation in Baghdad but were released in good condition, the organization said from the Iraqi capital.
Ironically, the group had signed a statement before their capture saying "they reject the use of force to save their lives," should they be taken hostage, Logan reports.
But today the nurses who cared for them at this American military hospital inside the Green Zone told CBS News "they were overjoyed at their rescue."
British Embassy spokeswoman Lisa Glover said the men would be flown out of Baghdad in the next few days. She said Kember was in "reasonable condition" and spent the day "relaxing and talking to British authorities."
Kember's wife, Pat, said she had spoken with her husband on the phone.
"He was very, very pleased to be free, but he was very emotional in talking to me. I think he must be very worried about me and the family," she told New Zealand's Radio Live in an interview replayed by the British Broadcasting Corp.
Speaking from her north London home, she said his decision to go to Iraq was "a bit silly," but added "I knew that he felt he must do something and he's getting old, and if he (didn't) do something ... it would be too late."
Loney's brother, Ed, told CBC television that his mother had spoken with James on the phone and that he sounded "fantastic" though "he's lost quite a bit of weight."
Ed Loney told CNN his brother said he was well taken care of.
"He was always warm and always fed and things like that. He was more worried about boredom. ... I think that was probably the worst part of it, from what he said."
The Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteers have been in Iraq since October 2002, investigating allegations of abuse against Iraqi detainees by coalition forces. The group says its teams promote peaceful solutions in conflict zones.