An American hostage kidnapped in Niger earlier this week has been freed in a raid by U.S. special forces, the Pentagon has announced. Philip Walton was abducted on Monday from a village close to the border with Nigeria. He was taken across the border into Nigeria and rescued on Saturday. No U.S. troops were hurt in the operation on Friday night but several of his captors were killed.
Several Westerners are currently being held hostage in the region, including American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who was kidnapped in the central town of Abalak in 2016 and is believed to be in neighboring Mali now. Militant groups operate mostly in Mali’s rural areas, as well as across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. Large swathes of Mali remain outside government control, and inter-ethnic bloodshed is a regular occurrence. The kidnapping of hostages for ransom represents only one means of creating cash flow for these groups. In recent years, there has been an increase in drug trafficking in and through the region, which is generating high levels of violence. Many of the armed groups rely on the drug trade to finance operations, meet logistical needs and acquire weapons and vehicles.