The U.S. tried but failed to rescue James Foley, along with other hostages in July, launching a “substantial and complex” operation inside Syria involving “several dozen” United States commandos, top administration officials revealed Wednesday.
The mission came up short because the hostages, including Foley, were not in the location where intelligence reports indicated they were being held. But a firefight between U.S. Special Operations forces and ISIS militants resulted in “a good number” of casualties among the ISIS fighters, while only one U.S. commando suffered any injury, according to an unnamed official, who spoke to media outlets on the condition of anonymity.
Foley, an American photojournalist, was held captive for nearly two years by ISIS in Syria, but was recently murdered by the militants in a grisly online video that showed a masked ISIS member speaking English in a British accent beheading the 40-year-old Foley with a knife.
The administration officials declined to say how many other hostages were supposed to be at the remote location in Syria, or to release the names of any of the hostages targeted by the mission, other than James Foley.
The officials gave no further details of the operation, but they did imply that the location where the Special Operations team landed, and where the hostages were believed to be held, was in an isolated location. If the location were near a heavily populated area, they would not have been able to keep it quiet for as long as they did, the officials said, according to a New York Times report.
The officials, however, admitted that U.S. intelligence remained baffled as to how they ended up with incorrect information on the location of the hostages.
“The truth is we don’t know,” an official told reporters. “When we got there, they weren’t there. We don’t know why that is.”
Intelligence is “not a perfect science” the official said, explaining that the gathering of information was “a layered procedure” with information coming through various channels.
The Department of Homeland Security issued an official statement about the failed rescue mission.
“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 Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco in the statement. “Unfortunately that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present. Given the need to protect our military’s operational capabilities, we will not be able to reveal the details of this operation. But the President could not be prouder of the U.S. forces who carried out this mission and the dedicated intelligence and diplomatic professionals who supported their efforts.”
An international manhunt is underway for the ISIS militant who carried out the murder of James Foley. The killer is believed to be a British citizen and possibly native of London.