A few months ago the U.S. conducted a clandestine multi-agency operation in Syria aimed at rescuing slain American journalist James Foley and several others from the clutches of Islamic State, the militant group that has taken over vast swathes of territory and has become known for high-visibility acts of extreme violence.
However the rescue attempt, undertaken “earlier this summer,” ultimately failed, suggested senior White House Counterterrorism official Lisa Monaco, principally “because the hostages were not present” at the location that U.S. Special Operations forces had targeted.
Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby hinted that the Obama administration had planned and executed a complex operation against ISIL recently, involving a range of sophisticated equipment and vehicles, and, “This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL”.
Unnamed officials were quoted saying to the Washington Post the operation “was conducted by a joint force with virtually every service represented… [including] special operators and aircraft both rotary and fixed-wing”, with surveillance aircraft overhead.
Further, they noted, there were a “good number” of militant casualties at the site but one U.S. service member received a “minor injury when one aircraft did take some fire”.
According to other officials in Washington U.S. forces landed modified, heavily-armed Black Hawk helicopters flown by the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the “Night Stalkers,” which works with both the Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEAL commandos.
On the broader contours of the rescue plan Ms. Monaco noted that the administration believed that it was backed by sufficient intelligence, and Mr. Obama waited for an opportunity to present itself and then gave a green signal to the military “to move aggressively to recover our citizens”.
Ms. Monaco did not offer any further explanations into the reasons for the operation’s failure, for instance whether it was because of faulty intelligence, or IS discovering the plan and relocating the hostages before U.S. forces arrived.
She however said that U.S. President Barack Obama had authorised action earlier this summer because it was his national security team’s assessment that these hostages were “in danger with each passing day in ISIL custody”.
This week IS posted a video on the Internet that showed the beheading of Mr. Foley by a British-accented, masked IS militant somewhere in the Syria-Iraq region, and included a warning that another American journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, would meet a similar fate if U.S. airstrikes against IS in Iraq were not immediately stopped.
Mr. Foley and others were believed to be held at an eastern Syria site near Raqqa, an IS stronghold.
Despite the mission’s failure the White House said this operation was a signal “to those who would do us harm, that the U.S. will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable”.