President Barack Obama twice authorized the military to rescue a U.S. captain who was being held by Somali pirates and whose life appeared to be at risk, administration official said after Sunday's rescue.
The Defense Department twice asked Obama for permission to use military force to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips from a lifeboat off the Somali coast. Obama first gave permission around 8 p.m. Friday, and upgraded it at 9:20 a.m. Saturday. Officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said the second order was to encompass more military personnel and equipment that arrived in the Indian Ocean to engage the pirates.
Somali pirates last week took the Maersk Alabama off the Horn of Africa. The crew fought back the pirates and reclaimed the ship, but Phillips was taken hostage aboard a lifeboat. Navy ships soon were on their way to the area.
Regular updates by phone and in person
White House officials on Sunday said Obama received regular updates by phone and in person at the White House — including 11 memos — and during his daily intelligence briefings with senior officials. The National Security Council last updated the president on a contingency plan for Phillips at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, according to a timeline of events released Sunday afternoon by the White House.
The president was in the residence Sunday when officials called him to alert him the five-day standoff was over, officials said.
Shortly after, the White House released a statement praising Phillips' behavior.
"I share the country's admiration for the bravery of Capt. Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew," Obama said. "His courage is a model for all Americans."
It was Obama's first public comment on the situation. Administration officials said the president made an effort not to call attention to the hostage situation while it was ongoing. Officials said they didn't want to send mixed signals to the pirates or do anything that might threaten Phillips' life.
Obama phoned Phillips and his family
An administration official also said Obama phoned Phillips and his family on Sunday.
In the same public statement, Obama said more must be done to prevent future attacks along the lawless African coast, where other ships remain under pirate control.
"We remain resolved to halt the rise of piracy in this region. To achieve that goal, we must continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks, be prepared to interdict acts of piracy and ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes," Obama said.
To that end, White House officials said the Justice Department is looking at evidence and considering whether to file criminal charges against a Somali pirate captured during the standoff.