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Middle East

US forces tried to rescue slain reporter from IS captors

© Wikimedia Commons | James Foley in 2011.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-21

US forces tried but failed to rescue American reporter James Foley and other US hostages held in Syria by so-called Islamic State (IS) insurgents, officials revealed on Wednesday.

US forces attempted to rescue the hostages during a secret mission into Syria and exchanged gunfire with militants only to discover the captives were not there, officials said.

The mission, authorised by President Barack Obama based on US intelligence, took place earlier this summer. Officials disclosed the mission a day after a video surfaced showing the beheading of 40-year-old Foley.

The video of Foley’s gruesome death, which FRANCE 24 made an editorial decision not to air or publish, has sparked outrage on social media.

US mission to rescue Foley failed

President Barack Obama sent US troops to Syria this summer to rescue a number of Americans held by a violent extremist group, including slain journalist James Foley, but they did not find the hostages, senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday.

The officials said the rescue mission was authorised after intelligence agencies believed they had identified the location inside Syria where the hostages were being held. But the several dozen special operations troops who were dropped by aircraft into Syria did not find them and engaged in a fire-fight with Islamic State group militants before departing.

The officials said a number of militants, but no Americans, were killed. One American sustained a minor injury when an aircraft was hit, according to the officials.


Officials would not say exactly when the secret operation took place but said it was not in the past couple of weeks. US special forces and other military personnel, backed up by helicopters and planes, dropped into the target zone in Syria and engaged in a fire-fight with IS militants.

The incident, in which a number of IS members were killed, appeared to be the first direct ground engagement between the United States and IS militants, which considers Washington its arch enemy and has overrun large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counterterrorism aide, said in a statement that Obama authorised the mission because his national security team believed that the hostages were in danger with each passing day.

“The US government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorised the Department of Defence to move aggressively to recover our citizens. Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present,” said Monaco.

Secret operation

The National Security Council said later on Wednesday it had never intended to disclose the operation.

“An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible,” the NSC statement said. “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.”

Among the hostages hoped to have been recued was Steven Sotloff, the American journalist who was threatened with beheading in the same video that showed the grisly execution of Foley. Several others were also sought, a senior administration official said.

The families of the hostages were informed about the operation, “but only when it was operationally safe to do so,” a senior administration official said.

Ransom demands

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the mission was focused on a “particular captor network” within the IS group. He did not provide specifics.

“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.

Meanwhile, Foley’s employer GlobalPost said Thursday that the journalist’s jihadist captors had demanded a ransom of 100 million euros -- $132 million -- for his release.

Foley had been reporting for GlobalPost from Syria when he was abducted in November 2012, and Balboni had been closely involved in efforts to locate and free the photojournalist.

Balboni said the captors made contact with GlobalPost and the Foley family fewer than half a dozen times, and "the kidnappers never really negotiated" over their huge sum, but simply made their demand.

The US government states it does not pay ransoms for hostages. But Balboni referred to the release of several European hostages by the group earlier this year, likely upon payment of ransoms that were "dramatically less" than what IS sought for Foley.

It is not known how many foreign hostages are being held by IS fighters in Syria and Iraq.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

Date created : 2014-08-21

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