WASHINGTON: US forces tried but failed to rescue reporter James Foley and other US hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State (IS), officials and reports said a day after the militants released a video showing the journalist’s beheading.
The Pentagon and the White House did not say if the covert mission earlier this summer was to rescue Foley, who was kidnapped in northern Syria in November 2012 and whose murder has provoked revulsion and condemnation.
However US media, citing senior Obama administration officials, on Wednesday said Foley was among those US Special Operations commandos were trying to rescue.
The video of Foley’s killing also showed a second US reporter, Steven Sotloff, being paraded by a black-clad IS militant who warned that he would also be killed if US President Barack Obama does not stop air strikes on IS positions in Iraq.
“The United States attempted a rescue operation recently to free a number of American hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (IS),” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
“This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL (IS).
“Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location.”
The White House said in a separate statement that the rescue attempt was authorized “earlier this summer.”
It involved several dozen US commandos, one of whom was injured in a fierce firefight with IS militants, The Washington Post said, calling it the first known US ground operation in Syria since the country’s descent into civil war.
The Post said that it was believed that Sotloff was also among the group being held that included Foley.
IS, also known as ISIL, considers Washington its arch-enemy and has overrun large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
It says it represents the aspirations of a global Muslim caliphate.
“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,” said Kirby.
“In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home.”
In the White House statement on the rescue attempt, Lisa Monaco, assistant to Obama for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, 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 US 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.”
It is not known how many foreign hostages are being held by IS fighters in Syria and Iraq.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said it had never been intended to reveal the operation, which the Post said came after at least six European hostages freed by the militants last spring had been debriefed by US intelligence.
“An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible,” Hayden said in a statement.
“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.”