US Launched Operation in Syria to Free American Hostages
By PTI | Published: 21st August 2014 07:44 AM |
WASHINGTON: US Special Operation Forces launched a secret raid in Syria at the direction of President Barack Obama to rescue journalist James Foley and other Americans held hostage by Islamic State militants, but the "complicated" mission failed and the rescue team evacuated.
Both the White House and the Pentagon yesterday acknowledged such a secret operation in Syria to rescue American citizens taken hostage by the Islamic State, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS or ISIL.
The disclosure came a day after the ISIS released a disturbing video showing one of its members beheading Foley, who was abducted abducted in Syria in November 2012.
The Obama administration did not confirm whether Foley was one among hostages, but multiple media reports said that he was one among them.
According to senior Obama administration officials, special forces were dropped in a remote area of Syria where intelligence officials suspected hostages were being held.
"The attempt, involving several dozen US commandos, one of whom was injured in a fierce firefight with the militants, was the first known US ground operation in Syria since the country’s descent into civil war," The Washington Post said.
It came after at least six European hostages freed by the militants last spring had been debriefed by US intelligence, the daily said.
"This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL. Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.
President Obama had authorized the operation to attempt the rescue of Americans who were kidnapped by the ISIL and held in Syria, said Lisa Monaco, Assistant to President for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism.
Obama authorised action at this time because it was the national security team's assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in ISIL custody, she said.
Monaco said the US Government had what it believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the President authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to rescue the hostages.
"Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present," she also said, adding that "given the need to protect our military's operational capabilities, we will not be able to reveal the details of this operation."
Kirby said the US was committed to the safety of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity.
"In this case, we put the best of the US military in harms' way to try and bring our citizens home," the Pentagon spokesperson said.
"The US government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can. America will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable," he said.
The White House and the Pentagon decided to go public with the information as it came to know that many of the media outlets had come to know about this secretive operation.
"We never intended to disclose this operation. An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible," said Caitlin Hayden, Spokesperson of the National Security Council, White House.
"We only went public today when it was clear a number of media outlets were preparing to report on the operation and that we would have no choice but to acknowledge it," Hayden said.
According to unnamed official who spoke to a select group of reporters on condition of anonymity there were a "good number" of militant casualties at the site, but that one US service member received a "minor injury when one aircraft did take some fire."
Foley's beheading marks the first time the Islamic State has killed a US citizen since the Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011. Opposition activists say the war has killed more than 170,000 people.
The militant group has threatened to kill another reporter unless the US halts its air strikes in Iraq.
President Obama authorised "targeted air strikes" against Islamic State militants early this month to protect American military personnel and prevent potential "genocide" of thousands of displaced religious minorities trapped on a mountaintop in northwest Iraq.