During the early morning hours of October 31, 2020, members of the US Navy SEAL Team 6, also known as DEVGRU (Development Group), carried out a dramatic hostage rescue operation in Northern Nigeria to recover the kidnapped American citizen named Philip Walton.

According to reports, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) supplied the intelligence that led to the whereabouts of Walton, and components of the Marine Special Operations in Africa assisted in locating him. Because of their responsibilities in the region of West Africa, SEAL Team 6 was selected to carry out the operation.

Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters in a statement that “US forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of October 31 in northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men”. Hoffman added that Walton “…is safe and is now in the care of the US Department of State.”

These operations are essential in ensuring the safety of the hostage, and of course, it speaks about the national security of the country involved. With this rescue mission, US pledged its commitment to defending its citizens and national interests wherever they may be.

What happened to Philip Walton?

Philip Walton, age 27, resided in a tiny village of Massalata in Niger with his wife and daughter. Massalata is located close to the border of Nigeria. US officials said he was kidnapped on October 26, 2020. Near the edge of Niger and Nigeria, it is noted that Walton maintains a flock of camels, lambs, chickens, and mango trees. As per the reports, six bandits armed with AK-47 assault rifles rode up on motorbikes to the house where he lived. They then took him captive.

The US intelligence community was able to track him down in Northern Nigeria by following the clues it left behind. As a result, the green light was given to the US Special Operations Forces not long after former US President Donald Trump was briefed on the situation. Although it was a “tough” decision, in the end, the president chose to go ahead with the operation because he placed the utmost importance on protecting American citizens. According to the sources, the aim of the kidnappers was either to demand a ransom payment or to sell Philip Walton to one of the terrorist groups operating in Nigeria. 

The Rescue Attempt


The rescue mission carried out by US Special Operations commenced with a parachute insertion into the area. In most cases, this form of insertion is only utilized in exceptional circumstances, such as when no other covert insertion methods are immediately accessible. Additionally, it is used when the forces entrusted to the raid need to go into the target location on aircraft with a greater range from a substantial distance. During the attack, there was around 30 personnel who were a part of special operations. After the rescue team had successfully parachuted into the region, they set out on foot approximately three miles to the objective. After what was described as a “short but intense firefight,” Walton was carried to the evacuation spot. From there, helicopters transported the captive and the rescue team to a secure location. According to a defense official, of the six kidnappers involved in the abduction and during Walton’s liberation, five of them were killed, while the remaining one managed to escape. 

U.S. Navy SEALs are deployed worldwide, conducting missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Source: U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class George R. Kusner., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Post-Operation Reaction

After the nerve-racking operation, the rescue mission received glowing praise, including former president Donald Trump who said in a tweet that the successful operation was a “Big win for our very elite US Special Forces today. Details to follow!”

During a separate event, he also stated while addressing a crowd in Pennsylvania that “The kidnappers wished they had never done it,” which is something of an understatement since only one of the kidnappers survived.

This successful mission conducted an entire continent away in the remote reaches of a country like Nigeria offers several lessons. The Demonstration Effect can affect the behavior of others who witness an event or the actions of others and the consequences that go with them.  The mission to rescue of Walton was something of a marvel in terms of the operational art of war.  It may have also been a mission only the United States could pull off successfully.

  1. The long War on Terror had honed the skills of Special Operations Forces like SEAL Team 6 to a very fine point of competence and proficiency.
  2. Our worldwide network of bases provides the Air Force with a global reach, able to send aircraft just about anywhere in the world we might need to conduct operations.
  3. Our intelligence agencies were able to provide timely and accurate information that allowed planners to craft a successful mission.
  4. Our network of satellites was able to provide real-time data of conditions on the ground prior to and even during the raid itself
  5. Political leadership was able to give the green light to the operation with a high degree of confidence that it would be successful.
  6. A successful mission like this creates a deterrent effect. Kidnappers want the ransom money, not a SEAL Team shooting them in the face.