By Michael Wilner
The United States military conducted an air and ground operation in Syria this summer which failed to rescue several American hostages held by the Islamic State, in the first such mission by U.S. forces since the Syrian war began over three years ago.
“This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the mission was not successful, because the hostages were not present at the targeted location.”
The Pentagon did not specify the number of hostages suspected to be held in Syria, where the operation occurred specifically, or how many U.S. military personnel were involved.
U.S. troops were fired upon with significant force by Islamist militants during the operation, according to officials.
The White House intended to keep the attempted rescue mission secret, one spokesman said on Wednesday night. Only when details of the operation were leaked by administration officials did the White House decide to comment. “We never intended to disclose this operation,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, responding to multiple media requests. “An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible. 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,” she continued.
In a statement from Massachusetts earlier in the day, U.S. President Barack Obama sternly condemned the videotaped murder of American journalist James Foley by an Islamic State militant. The fighter threatened to kill another American if U.S. air strikes continued on assets of the group.
Foley was captured in Syria in 2012, working as a freelancer for news website GlobalPost. The Islamic State holds court in its nominal capital, al-Raqqa, in eastern Syria.
“The United States 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,” Admiral Kirby said.
Obama administration officials say the president reserves all options to protect Americans under threat in the region. But the president has ruled out “boots on the ground” to fight the Islamic State, either in Iraq or Syria, where the group has control over territory.
On Wednesday, Obama called the Islamic State a “cancer” that the world must prevent from spreading.
In a prepared statement, Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said that the White House would be unable to confirm further details of the mission for the protection of military personnel in the region.
“Earlier this summer, the president authorized an operation to attempt the rescue of American citizens who were kidnapped and held by ISIL against their will in Syria,” Monaco said. “The president authorized 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. 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.” (JPost.com) ϖ