A U.S. Navy SEAL unit that is quickly gaining a reputation for carrying out daring and dangerous raids successfully rescued a U.S. and a Danish hostage who were being held by kidnappers in Somalia.

The team parachuted into Somalia under cover of darkness early Wednesday and made their way to the hostage-takers' camp.

"We believe that the hostage-takers were asleep at the time and the word we're getting is the soldiers moved in, there was a shootout that began, it was over very quickly and they were out again all in less than an hour," said CTV's London Bureau Chief Tom Kennedy.

The Danish Refugee Council confirmed Wednesday that American Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted, a Dane, were "on their way to be reunited with their families."

Buchanan, 32, and Thisted, 60, are both aid workers who were working to remove mines when they were taken hostage by gunmen in October.

According to reports, nine kidnappers were killed in the shootout near the Somali town of Adado.

A pirate who gave his name as Bile Hussein told The Associated Press by phone that in addition to the nine who were killed, three were "taken away." Bile told AP he was not present during the raid but had spoken to people who were.

U.S. President Barack Obama had authorized the raid two days earlier, and got word just before delivering his State of the Union speech Tuesday night that the mission had been a success.

"The president we are told got word just before he gave his State of the Union address last night, and turned to his defence secretary and said 'good job,'" Kennedy said.

The rescue mission was carried out by the same SEAL unit that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last May in Pakistan.

Known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or SEAL Team 6, the group is quickly gaining a reputation as an effective if deadly squad capable of operating in close proximity to enemy fighters.

The U.S. has been cautious about executing military operations in Somalia in recent years, but the mission was reportedly approved after word emerged that Buchanan's health was "deteriorating rapidly," according to new intelligence.

A Danish Refugee Council official, Mary Ann Olsen, said that Buchanan was "not that ill" but required medicine.

Obama didn't mention the raid in his speech Tuesday night, but was on the phone with Buchanan's father shortly after the speech ended, letting him know his daughter was safe.

"As Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

"The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to bring their captors to justice."

According to a Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the rescuers and their charges were flown by helicopter to a U.S. military base called Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

The Danish Refugee Council said both freed hostages are unharmed "and at a safe location." The group said in a separate statement that the two "are on their way to be reunited with their families."

Buchanan, a former teacher at a school in Kenya, has an undisclosed medical condition, according to Danish Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal, speaking to Danish television.

No other details were released.

The two aid workers appear to have been kidnapped by criminals and not by Somalia's al Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab.

A number of hostages are still being held in Somalia, including a British tourist, an American journalist and two Spanish doctors kidnapped in Kenya.