WASHINGTON President Barack Obama says U.S. forces assisted in a to rescue a French citizen in Somalia on Friday.
Obama says the U.S. forces provided limited technical support to French forces leading the operation. The president says the Americans had no direct role in the assault on the compound where a French intelligence agent was believed to be held hostage, although U.S. combat aircraft did briefly enter Somali airspace on an as-needed basis.
The president said the U.S. took part in the operation "in furtherance of U.S. national security interests."
French officials say the hostage is almost certainly dead. A French commando was also killed in the rescue attempt.
Obama disclosed the U.S. role Sunday in a letter alerting Congress about the deployment of U.S. forces.
The French commandos were there to free a French intelligence agent captured on Bastille Day in 2009. The man, known by his code-name Denis Allex, was chained up, abused and moved from one safe house to another, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday. Le Drian said the government decided to stage the rescue a month ago, when Allex's location seemed to have settled down "in a spot accessible by the sea."
The local accounts, along with that of a Somali intelligence official and the French defense minister, offer a glimpse into a chaotic rescue attempt in which nothing seemed to go as planned.
French officials, including the president, and a Somali intelligence official said Allex was almost certainly killed by his captors. The intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press, said Sunday that the home where the agent was held was destroyed in the attack Saturday, and that intelligence networks "do not have any information indicating he is still alive."
The Somali al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab has offered no proof for its claims that Allex was still alive and that a wounded French soldier was in its custody as well. French officials acknowledge a missing soldier, but say they believe he is dead.
The fighting took an even steeper toll on the Islamists, according to French officials and locals. French officials said they counted 17 dead among the Islamists.