Monday, February 19, 2018

Rescue attempt drew firefight

WASHINGTON — The attempt to rescue photojournalist James Foley and other Americans being held in Syria by Islamic State militants involved several dozen U.S. commandos, one of whom was injured in a fierce firefight with the militants, senior Obama administration officials said.

It was the first known U.S. ground operation in Syria since the country's descent into civil war.

The rescue was attempted after at least six European hostages freed by the militants last spring had been debriefed by U.S. intelligence.

The effort, authorized by President Barack Obama ultimately was not successful because the hostages were not present at the site of the operation, the Washington Post and other news organizations reported, citing unnamed administration officials. Other officials said the hostages were believed to have been at the site, but that they had been moved up to several weeks before the raid.

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

ISIS on Tuesday released a video of Foley's execution, which it said was in response to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

The failed operation "was conducted by a joint force with virtually every service represented," including "special operators and aircraft both rotary and fixed wing," with surveillance aircraft overhead, the Post reported, citing one of the senior officials said.

That official said that there were a "good number" of militant casualties at the site, but that one U.S. service member received a minor injury when one aircraft took some fire.

Foley and others were held at an eastern Syria site near Raqaa, a city that is held by ISIS fighters, the Post reported, citing other current and former U.S. officials.

The officials said that U.S. forces landed modified, heavily armed Black Hawk helicopters flown by the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which works with both the Army's Delta Force and Navy SEAL commandos. The regiment is known as the "Night Stalkers."

Foley, 40, was kidnapped in November 2012 while covering Syria's civil war. According to his employer, the Boston-based website GlobalPost, he was held in eastern Syria with at least a dozen other captives, including other Western journalists, by British members of ISIS, which last week sent his family and employer an email threatening to kill him.

"We knew exactly where he was from the released hostages," GlobalPost president and chief executive Philip Balboni said. "We knew that his immediate jailers were British jihadists."

"There was talk of paying a ransom," Balboni said. "I think the fact that others were released for money certainly gave us hope that a similar outcome could be effectuated for Jim."

U.S. policy has long been opposed to paying ransom for hostages, although a number of European governments and companies are believed to have paid for releases.

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