Secretary Clinton said the US wanted to be “helpful” and discussed what assistance the US was prepared to provide, according to State Department officials. The US offered to dispatch specially trained hostage-rescue teams, according to some Pentagon officials, but Algeria reportedly declined.
Algeria dispatched helicopter gunships on Thursday to thwart the militants’ attempt to flee the gas complex with a number of hostages. By Thursday evening Algerian officials claimed that several hundred hostages had been freed – while acknowledging that a number of hostages and their captors had died.
Algeria’s communications minister, Mohand Said Oublaid, said in a radio address that Algeria’s military operation resulted in the “neutralization” of a large number of “terrorists” and the freeing of a “considerable number” of hostages, though he gave no specific numbers. He also said the operation was ongoing as he spoke Thursday evening.
But other Algerian officials told local reporters that as many as 30 hostages died in the helicopter assault. That number was closer to what militants associated with the hostage takers reported. Islamist militants associated with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), Al Qaeda’s principle affiliate in the region, claimed that 35 hostages had died in the Algerian helicopter assault.
American involvement in the effort to resolve the hostage crisis was not surprising, some regional analysts say, given the presence of American citizens at the gas facility – and the broader US interest in seeing radical Islam’s spread in the region reversed.
But any sustained US role, for example in Mali, is likely to follow the pattern set by President Obama in the 2011 Libya intervention, some experts add. In that case, the powers with the greatest interests at stake – France and Britain – were expected to take the lead.