[Updated] U.S. Special Forces raid in Somalia: no need for stealth choppers so did they parachute from a C-17?

Update Jan. 25 15:33GMT

In the night between Jan. 24 and 25 a US joint Special Forces team (including the Navy SEALs) team freed two Western workers kidnapped in Somalia on Oct. 25, 2011. They were an American woman, Jessica Buchanan, and a Danish man, Paul Tisted, working for the Danish Demining Group, abducted by armed people near Galkayo, a central Somali town located some 200 miles to the northeast of Mogadishu.

The BBC says U.S. officials have confirmed that the American Special Forces performed the overnight operation which resulted in a shoot-out with 9 Somali pirates killed and five captured. The team was parachuted from a plane (although NBC News, citing American officials, reported that two teams landed in Somalia by helicopter) and remained on the ground for about an hour, from 02.00 to 03.00LT (24.00GMT).

After the rescue team had rescued the hostages, the special forces left the area by helicopter and flew back to Dijibouti base of Camp Lemonnier.

If the news of the SEALs parachuted by C-17s is confirmed, the last raid would sign a big change from the last operation the U.S. Special Forces conducted in Pakistan last May, when they killed Osama Bin Laden. Indeed, during the Operation Neptune’s Spear (known also as “Operation Geronimo”) they not only swooped into the Pakistani airspace with a Stealth Black Hawk helicopter, but they were covered by several assets (including an RQ-170 Sentinel, like the one captured in Iran on Dec. 4) whose role was to conceal the ongoing raid.

Since there was no need to deceive an enemy air defense or surveillance system whereas there was that to avoid the risk of both being “announced” by the noise of helicopters or, even worse, to face other problems with stealth technologies in the wrong hands in a foreign country (as happened too many times in the last year) it is possible that, this time, with the Black Hawk Down accident in their minds, the Special Forces opted to be paradropped by a cargo plane.

Indeed, at least four C-17s belonging to the 437th Airlift Wing from Charleston AFB were reported by UK spotters to be refuelled by four KC-135 tankers launched from RAF Mildenhall sowhere off the European coasts on their way to Dijibouti a couple of days ago.

Actually some (if not all) returned to Ramstein before the raid was lauched, so there’s still the possibility they were  only used to carry the US Special Forces and their equipment to their forward operating base and did not take part in the Somali raid.

However, the ramp at Camp Lemonnier is not so huge to accomodate all the Globemasters and one or more could have remained in Djibouti to support the raid and airdrop the SOF troops using HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) system.

Nevertheless U.S. Navy SEALs as well as the other Special Forces often perform training activities launching from C-17s as the following ANG image shows.

Let’s see if the information is disclosed in the next Pentagon briefing but I would not be surprised to know that they performed a real one over Somalia last night.

Some have argued that the aircraft supporting the raid may have been MC-130s. The Department of Defense did not disclose any detail about the involved aircraft and units, however, three MC-130s were reported to have crossed the Pond the night before the raid.

Whether they were involved in the Somali pirates raid or not, it’s hard to say. What can be said is that the C-17 offers higher speed, range and payload. And could be preferred for HALO drops because it is able to fly at higher altitudes where I think it’s also less noisy than an MC-130.

Richard Clements contributed to this article.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Even assuming that they landed after jumping from a C-17, how was the extraction like? Guess choppers if they had also 2 civilian + maybe 5 pirates under arrest (or maybe they had been left there cuffed). But if they got into one ore more choppers they should have gone to a pretty far away free LZ to avoid counterreaction by somali. Wonder how they made up there being on foot, or maybe a wheeled system was parajumped too? There are lots of variables…

    • A very good point, My guess and it is a guess is that the Seals performed a HALO jump the C-17 was at an altitude that the pirates could not hear it. They landed lets say a mile away and walked to the camp, once the Job had been done the extraction is a perfect sortie for the CV-22 Osprey which does fit in a C-17 (admittedly with the wings and rotor’s removed) which had been assembled at Camp Lemmenier and flown from there arriving once the operation had been completed.

      It will be interesting to see if further details emerge.

    • Can’t be sure MC-130s were not involved. But, since C-17 were monitored going there, I think that they could have been used. Don’t forget that special equipped C-17 was used in Iraq and Afghanistan too for similar missions

  2. Could very well have been 16th airlift squadron C-17s out of Charleston, they have a dedicated special operations support role.

  3. I’m guessing deciding which units go on raids like this is just as much a political as an operational decision. I also suspect the team will have been made up of members of many of the US special operation forces – maybe a couple of Air Force Combat Controllers or PJs were included, for example.

    But I am expecting a delta force led success to become public soon. The US Army will not like Seals getting all the glory.

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