U.S. staged secret operation into Syria in failed bid to rescue Americans

Afghanistan Obama and the World

U.S. Special Operations forces staged an unsuccessful operation this summer to rescue photojournalist James Foley and other Americans being held in Syria by Islamic State militants, according to senior Obama administration officials.

The attempt, involving several dozen U.S. commandos, one of whom was injured in a fierce firefight with the militants, was the first known U.S. ground operation in Syria since the country’s descent into civil war. It came after at least six European hostages freed by the militants this spring had been debriefed by U.S. intelligence.

“The president authorized earlier this summer an operation to attempt the rescue of American citizens held by ISIL,” said one of two senior officials who provided information on the mission, using one of the acronyms that refer to the Islamic State.

“We had a combination of . . . intelligence that was sufficient to enable us to act on it,” the official said, and the military moved “very aggressively, very quickly to try and recover our citizens.”

The official said the effort “was not ultimately successful because the hostages were not present . . . at the site of the operation.” Other officials said the captives were believed to have been there but had been moved before the raid, possibly several weeks earlier.

In an announcement after the initial publication Wednesday of details about the operation, the White House and Pentagon issued statements confirming that President Obama had authorized the mission following assessments that “these hostages were in danger with each passing day.”

The Islamic State on Tuesday released a video of Foley’s execution, which it said was in response to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. Obama called the beheading “appalling” and “a brutal murder.”

The two officials, who were authorized by the White House to speak anonymously to a small group of reporters, would not specify the number or identity of Americans being held alongside Foley. They are..

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