With reports Thursday afternoon that at least two of perhaps seven American hostages had escaped their captors and were on their way home, the United States was involved in the crisis both on the ground and diplomatically. Pentagon officials confirmed that the US had deployed unmanned drones to monitor and report on the fast-moving crisis, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has kept informed through phone conversations Wednesday and Thursday with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.
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.