Journalist James Foley, photographed in Boston in 2011.
Steven Senne/AP

US failed to free James Foley, other Americans held in Syria


The Pentagon attempted a rescue operation to free James Foley and other U.S. hostages held in Syria by Islamist militants, but the mission failed because the hostages weren’t where U.S. planners thought they were, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.

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The attempted rescue occurred early this summer when Special Operations forces in helicopters, under air cover from U.S. fighter jets, swarmed a compound and were engaged by enemy forces, U.S. officials told NBC News.

After a fierce gunbattle in which “many ISIS fighters were killed,” the Americans determined that the hostages weren’t there and quickly left, the officials said. One added: “It all happened very quickly.”

A U.S. helicopter pilot suffered a minor wound when the chopper came under enemy fire, but there were no other U.S. casualties, officials said.

A Pentagon spokesman gave few details but said the operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a “particular captor network” within the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. The news comes a day after ISIS released a gruesome video documenting the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.

Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in a statement that Obama authorized the mission because the U.S. “had what we believed was sufficient intelligence.”

“It was the national security team’s assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in [ISIS] custody,” she said. While the effort failed, Obama “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,” Monaco said.

This story, by Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kube and M. Alex Johnson, originally appeared on

US failed to free James Foley, other Americans held in Syria