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. 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.
In recent years, it's easy to think of instances in which American servicemen and women are sent on a dangerous mission, which has gone very well. The mission to free Richard Phillips from his captors in 2009, for example, was a great success. So was the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. More recently, the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged ringleader of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, went off without a hitch.
But sometimes these missions come up short.
An American helicopter pilot suffered a minor injury, but that was the full extent of the U.S. casualties. On the other hand, Defense Department officials said "many ISIS fighters were killed" during the raid and subsequent gunbattle.
The hostages, however, simply weren't there.
A New York Times report added some additional details, including the fact that the mission was carried out by a team of two dozen Delta Force commandos, dropped by helicopter into Syria, who raided an oil refinery in the northern part of the country.
Lisa Monaco, President Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in a written statement that the administration had an opportunity and acted on "what we believed was sufficient intelligence," but the raid was too late.
"Given the need to protect our military's operational capabilities, we will not be able to reveal the details of this operation," Monaco added. "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."
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