U.S. special forces attempted an unsuccessful rescue operation in Syria earlier this summer to free American journalist James Foley and other hostages being held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), administration officials said Wednesday.
The administration disclosed the mission one day after ISIS released a video showing Foley's beheading. The group is threatening to kill another U.S. journalist in captivity, unless the U.S. halts airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.
“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,” she added. “Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”
The rescue operation was approved after at least six Western hostages freed by ISIS were debriefed by U.S. intelligence officials, according to the Washington Post.
Senior officials who briefed reporters on Wednesday neither identified the date or location of the secret operation, nor the number of hostages held by ISIS.
One American service member received a "minor injury" during the operation when military aircraft took fire, but there were no U.S. fatalities. Special forces, though, inflicted a “good number” of casualties on ISIS fighters, one official added.
Current and former officials told the Post separately that Foley and others had previously been at the targeted site, but had apparently been moved before the rescue attempt.
The operation was conducted by a joint force with virtually every military service represented, including special operators, surveillance drones, fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, officials told the Post.
Modified Black Hawks flown by the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment also took part in the operation, and received heavy fire.
President Obama earlier Wednesday paid tribute to Foley and vowed that the U.S. would be “relentless” and “vigorous” in protecting Americans abroad.
Obama did not disclose the raid at that time or lay out any further military actions, saying only that, "when people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done."
“Given the need to protect our military’s operational capabilities, we will not be able to reveal the details of this operation,” Monaco added in a statement. “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.
“Their effort should serve as another signal to those who would do us harm that the United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable,” she added.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the remaining hostages’ families and their loved ones during this difficult time,” said Monaco. “We continue to call for their immediate release.”
Kirby added that the U.S. remains 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. "The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can.
"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," he said.