The mission, authorized by President Barack Obama based on U.S.
intelligence, took place earlier this summer. Officials disclosed
the mission a day after a video surfaced showing a militant
beheading the 40-year-old Foley.
Officials would not say exactly when the operation took place but
said it was not in the past couple of weeks. U.S. special forces and
other military personnel, backed up by helicopters and planes,
dropped into the target zone in Syria and engaged in a firefight
with Islamic State militants.
The incident, in which a number of militants were killed, appeared
to be the first direct ground engagement between the United States
and Islamic State militants, seen by Obama as a growing threat in
the Middle East.
Lisa Monaco, Obama's top counterterrorism aide, said in a statement
that Obama authorized the mission because it was his national
security team’s assessment that the hostages were in danger with
each passing day.
"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. Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately
not successful because the hostages were not present," said Monaco.
The National Security Council said later on Wednesday it had never
intended to disclose the 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," the NSC statement said. "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
[to top of second column]
OTHER CAPTIVES SOUGHT
Among the hostages sought in the mission was Steven Sotloff, the
American journalist who was threatened with beheading in the same
video that showed the grisly execution of Foley. Several other
captives were also sought, a senior administration official said.
The families of the hostages were informed about the operation, "but
only when it was operationally safe to do so," a senior
administration official said.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the mission was focused on a
"particular captor network" within the Islamic State militant group.
He did not provide specifics.
"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 harm's way to try and bring our citizens
home," he said.
He added: "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."
(Reporting by Missy Ryan and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by
Jason Szep and Warren Strobel; Editing by Peter Cooney, Bernard Orr
and Eric Beech)
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