french-commandos-somaliaThe startled residents of Bulo Marer Somalia, about 75 miles northwest of the capital Mogadishu, woke to the sounds of helicopter blades slicing though the air and the crack of heavy gunfire Friday night as 3 French helicopters and their commando units with the limited support of U.S. forces, launched a rescue invasion beneath the cover of darkness, attempting to free DGSE(french intelligence, similar to the CIA but more militarized) agent Denis Allex, who was taken hostage on July 14, 2009, while on an official mission in Mogadishu in support of the transitional Somali government.

The operation was unsuccessful. The bloody exchange resulted in 17 dead militant Islamists and 1 dead French soldier. Another French operative, Bulo Marerwas, was reported as missing but according to the Al-Shabaab militia which is a spin off of Al Qaeda, the French invaders left behind combat gear and a wounded comrade before retracting. They later issued a brief statement as to that soldiers current situation: “The injured French soldier is now in the custody of the Mujahideen,” al-Shabaab said. Doing the math, the only person they could be referring to is in fact Marerwas.

To add insult to injury, they were unsuccessful at extracting Allex and it’s believed that as soon as the firefight broke out he was executed by his captors. French President Francois Hollande acknowledged Saturday that the operation “did not succeed.” The president said the attempt resulted in the sacrifice of two French soldiers and “maybe the assassination” of Allex.

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DGSE Agent Denis Allex in 2009 After Being Captured by Al-Shabaab in Mogudishu

According to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who spoke to reporters in Paris on Saturday “everything leads us to believe that Denis Allex was gunned down by his captors.” Al-Shabaab insisted, however, that Allex was unharmed and was later moved to a new location. The militants later posted to Twitter that they will decide his fate within the next 48 hours.

On Sunday U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed that U.S. troops had lent  “limited technical support”  but “took no direct part in the assault on the compound where it was believed the French citizen was being held hostage,” in the unsuccessful operation.

“United States combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, if needed,” the president wrote. “These aircraft did not employ weapons during the operation.”  He said  he directed U.S. troop involvement “in furtherance of U.S. national security interests, and pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as commander in chief and chief executive.”

By 8 p.m., all U.S. forces were out of Somalia.