President Obama acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that he attempted last summer to resuce Kayla Mueller, a hostage of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who was confirmed dead this week.

“I deployed an entire operation — at significant risk — to rescue not only her but the other individuals who had been held, and probably missed them by a day or two, precisely because we had that commitment,” Obama told BuzzFeed News, after saying he disagreed with the suggestion that the government hadn’t done everything within its power to rescue Mueller.


U.S. forces reportedly launched a raid in July to rescue Mueller and other ISIS hostages.

Obama defended the United States’s policy of not paying ransoms to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for releasing hostages, but said relaying that decision to parents is wrenching.

“The one thing that we have held to is a policy of not paying ransoms with an organization like ISIL. And the reason is once we start doing that, not only are we financing their slaughter of innocent people and strengthening their organization, but we’re actually making Americans even greater targets for future kidnappings,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the group.

“It’s as tough as anything I do — having the conversation with parents who understandably want by any means necessary for their children to be safe. We will do everything we can short of providing an incentive for future Americans to be caught,” he said.

Terrorist groups have turned to kidnapping-for-ransom as a way to finance their activities in recent years. The New York Times reported in July that al Qaeda and affiliated groups had earned $125 million from ransoms since 2008. Other countries have agreed to pay the ransoms.

ISIS, on the other hand, has mostly used its captives for propaganda purposes. It has published several videos showing the brutal executions of Western hostages since last August. Most recently, it released a video showing a Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive.