, WASHINGTON, Jan 26 – The first clue something was afoot was a mysterious comment from US President Barack Obama to Defence Secretary Leon Panetta as he strode into Congress to deliver his State of the Union address.
The words “good job tonight” were picked up by cameras and microphones, but the millions tuned in for the president’s speech were unaware of their significance, and of the major event that had just transpired a world away.
The Obama administration later provided to AFP a timeline of the Navy SEAL raid in Somalia that rescued two Western aid workers held for three months by armed pirates. Here are the main events:
– October 25: American national Jessica Buchanan and Danish citizen Poul Hagen Thisted are kidnapped in Somalia and taken hostage.
– October 26: Obama is informed of the kidnapping.
– November 21: US counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan and Danish Justice Minister Morten Boedskov discuss the status of Buchanan and Thisted.
– November 23: The president holds a meeting with top White House National Security Staff and discusses the Jessica Buchanan hostage situation. Obama directs that efforts to find Buchanan continue.
– Week of January 16: New intelligence emerges and shows that Buchanan’s health is deteriorating rapidly. Brennan begins giving Obama daily updates, noting that an attempt to rescue the hostage might be made in the near term. The president directs that planning proceed for a rescue.
– Saturday: Key national security officials discuss potential rescue options.
– Monday 7:15 pm (0015 GMT Tuesday): Key national security officials hold a second discussion to review options for rescue operation.
– Monday 9:00 pm (0200 GMT Tuesday): After discussing the proposed rescue operation with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, Brennan briefs the president in the White House residence and the president authorizes the operation to proceed.
– Tuesday: Obama is provided with half a dozen updates by Brennan during the day on movement of forces, the progression of the rescue operation, and the extraction of the hostages and forces.
– Tuesday 6:43 pm (2343 GMT): Just over two hours before Obama is set to begin his third State of the Union address in Congress, Brennan briefs the president that Buchanan and Thisted are safe and in US hands.
– Tuesday 9:05 pm (0205 GMT Wednesday): Cameras following Obama as he walks into Congress pick him up pointing his index finger at Panetta and saying “Good job tonight. Good job tonight.” Panetta smiles broadly and nods his head.
– Tuesday 10:32 pm (0332 GMT Wednesday): The president calls John Buchanan, Jessica’s father, and informs him of the successful rescue operation. A photograph released later by the White House showed First Lady Michelle Obama, in her sapphire blue dress, standing beside a seated Obama as he made the call, still at the Capitol.
– Wednesday 01:05 am (0605 GMT): A local security official in Mogadishu breaks the news of the rescue.
– Wednesday 05:30 am (1030 GMT): The White House releases a statement from Obama, confirming the news. “This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people,” he says.