U.S. military fighter jets provided backup support to the French hostage rescue mission in Somalia, the White House announced Sunday in a rare public acknowledgment of American combat operations in the Horn of Africa.

In a letter to Congress, President Barack Obama said U.S. combat aircraft “provided limited technical support” to French forces.

Obama said the U.S. warplanes “briefly” entered Somali airspace but did not open fire and departed Somalia by 8 p.m. Friday Washington time. He said he approved the mission but gave no other details.

It was unclear why Obama felt compelled to reveal this particular operation when he has remained silent about other specific U.S. combat missions in Somalia. Spokesmen from the White House and the Pentagon declined to elaborate or answer questions Sunday night.

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