Officials: Hostage rescue mission in Syria failed
Washington – — President Barack Obama sent special operations troops to Syria this summer on a secret mission to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, held by Islamic State extremists, but they did not find them, the Obama administration said Wednesday.
Officials said the rescue mission was authorized after intelligence agencies believed they had identified the location inside Syria where the hostages were being held. But the several dozen special operations forces dropped by aircraft into Syria did not find them at that location and engaged in a firefight with Islamic State militants before departing, killing several militants. No Americans died but one sustained a minor injury when an aircraft was hit.
“The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens,” said Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, in a statement. “Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”
Officials disclosed the rescue operation a day after the militants released a video showing the beheading of Foley and threatened to kill a second hostage, Steven Sotloff, if U.S. airstrikes against the militants in Iraq continued.
Despite the militants’ threats, the U.S. launched a new barrage of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria Wednesday. The Obama administration did not rule out the prospect of a military operation in Syria to bring those responsible for Foley’s death to justice.
In Foley’s home town of Rochester, New Hampshire, his parents spoke to reporters in an appearance where wrenching grief over their son’s death mingled with laughter over his life. Diane Foley said her son was courageous to the end and called his death “just evil.”
“We are just very proud of Jimmy and we are praying for the strength to love like he did and keep courageous and keep fighting for all the people he was fighting for,” she said. “We pray for all the remaining Americans.”
In capitals across the Middle East, news of Foley’s death was met largely with silence, even in Syria and Iraq — the two countries where the Islamic State is strongest. On social media, people in the region condemned Foley’s killing, but stressed that the Islamic State has been committing atrocities against Iraqis and Syrians for years.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter, said the local Muslim community “unequivocally denounces the unjustifiable murder” of Foley. Not only are ISIS’ actions “antithetical to our spiritual teachings,” he said, “We can go as far to say that their behavior, as far as we concerned, is satanic.”
The disclosure of the rescue mission marks the first time the U.S. has revealed that American military personnel have been on the ground in Syria since a bloody civil war there broke out more than three years ago.
“As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday night. “The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can.”
It’s unclear how many Americans the special forces attempted to rescue in Syria. While the officials who described the mission would not provide an exact number, other U.S. officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly, have said Foley was one of at least four Americans held in Syria.
Like Foley, two others are believed to have been kidnapped by the Islamic State. The fourth, freelance journalist Austin Tice, disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and is believed to be in the custody of government forces in Syria.
Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.