US launched raid in Syria to rescue American hostages held by Islamic State

The US military attempted to rescue “a number of American hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State,” the Department of Defense’s spokesman said today. The rescue attempt failed as the hostages were not at the location of the raid.

“The United States attempted a rescue operation recently to free a number of American hostages held in Syria by the [Islamic State,or ISIL],” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement released on the Department of Defense’s website. “This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL. Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location.”

The exact location of the raid inside Syria, which took place early this summer, was not disclosed by the US military.

Kirby indicated that top tier US special operations forces — two squads of Army Delta Force — were involved in the rescue operation, according to The New York Times. “In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home,” Kirby said.

One soldier was wounded in the raid. Kirby indicated that the military will continue to seek to free the US hostages.

“The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can,” he said. “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.”

The Islamic State is known to hold one American journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, who was captured near the Syria-Turkey border in August 2013. Kirby was clear that there are multiple hostages. At least three other Americans, Austin Tice, and two others who have not been named at the request of their families, are known to have disappeared in Syria. A US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that Tice and the other two Americans are also being held by the Islamic State.

The US has launched at least one other special operations raid in Syria since 2008. In October 2008, special operations forces killed Abu Ghadiya, a senior al Qaeda leader who has been in charge of the group’s Syrian network since 2005, and several aides during a raid in Albu Kamal. The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has named a training camp after Abu Ghadiya.

Military continues airstrikes against Islamic State despite threats

The military’s announcement of the hostage rescue operation took place just one day after the Islamic State beheaded James Wright Foley, an American journalist who was captured by the group in Binesh, Syria on Nov. 22, 2012. A videotape of the execution was released on the Internet.

The Islamic State has threatened to kill Soltoff if the US does not end the airstrikes against the jihadist group in northern Iraq.

“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” Foley’s executioner said as he grasped the collar of the orange jumpsuit worn by a terrified Sotloff.

But the US military said today that it is continuing air operations in Iraq. In a press release issued by US Central Command, the military said it executed 14 airstrikes against Islamic State “terrorists in support of Iraqi security force operations, using fighter, remotely piloted and attack aircraft.”

“The strikes destroyed or damaged six ISIL Humvees, three IED emplacements, one mortar tube, and two armed trucks,” CENTCOM said.

CENTCOM confirmed that the US military has launched “a total of 84 airstrikes across Iraq … and of those 84 strikes, 51 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam.”

The US military has aided the advance of the Iraqi military and Kurdish Peshmerga to retake the Mosul Dam and nearby towns after the Peshmerga retreated after putting up little opposition in early August.

Earlier today, US Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the Islamic State as “evil” in a statement condemning the execution of Foley.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • JT says:

    Unfortunately, it has taken another cruel beheading of an American citizen for the administration to start calling “extremists” and “militants” what they are – evil terrorists with only hateful violence for non believers.
    Here’s hoping that this wakeup call will have some effect with respect to actions. Not words. I was disappointed that the president said nothing today about accountability.

  • genes says:

    If anyone believes this, please send me an email with your SSN and bank account info, I have funds in Liberia that I need help getting to the US.

  • Lwj reader says:

    Again i reiterate, these boys ain’t JV!!
    As the OP’s conclusion will attest to.
    Uhhhh, reporting on Mortar tube destruction and IED destruction… Well , seems like First Resume Filler material. Sad!!

  • mark says:

    What i don’t understand, if the us govt. wanted to use the full force of it is operational power, why attempt a rescue mission.
    Did not anyone ask the question that second video was likely already made and they waiting for another time to release it.
    I know this stuff is not a hollywood movie nor is it a video game, but even i know that a rescue mission was risky at best.
    Would it not be better, to do something that puts isis forces into an operational testonterone fueled mania, and turn their technicals outfitted trucks into grease spots. I am sure the CIA knows exactly which buttons to push.
    Leave drone deployed bread crumb trails that Delta is area, when they amp up to find them, any one in a toyato raising dust, grease spot them.
    Pick a small minor town that ISIS completely controls as a hub of operations, and drone deploy a message from Obama that they have 24 hours to evacuate by foot and any technicals leaving are grease spotted, then B-52 it out of existance. Then put CIA c-130 over gun ships over the area an declare it an area of operational imperium, and grease spot observed technicals coming to and fro.
    That is using the full force of power. Screw the outcries, just do it.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    No Syrian refuge should be allowed across the border for the enemy. All IS installations and offices in Raqqa should be carpet bombed. We have B-52’s for a reason, its time use them.
    Furthermore, i have seen no evidence that anyone but the Islamic State uses Humvees in Syria. As such every single Humvee that can be found in Syria should be targeted by drone / precision strikes.

  • Evan says:

    LWJ reader,
    Not sure what you mean here, because the intel was bad, and our people weren’t physically present, that means what exactly? You think AQ knew they were being watched and targeted? More than just that awareness, you think that they proactively defeated this operation?
    How many IS bad guys do you think died to wound 1 Delta operator? With 2 full squads of some of the meanest, toughest men to walk this Earth, I’m sure it was more than a few.
    Stop trying to attribute some profound martial prowess to these guys, they’re nothing, even less than nothing.
    Just look at what my country has been doing to them.
    We kill them AT WILL, whenever, and wherever we feel like it.
    THAT is martial prowess, that is real power, and hopefully , we will continue to rid this world of people who have no place in it, and no claim to anything but death…

  • jim says:

    The problem with your hypothetical small town destruction situation is that ISIS, if given warning, will hide behind civilians and even parade them out into the public for the world to see before shuttling them back into hiding to use as a shield. Then if we do as you suggest and wipe them out, we kill innocent civilians – bad enough in itself and ISIS, other jihaditerrorist groups uses situation for propaganda, recruitment purposes.
    Special Operations appeal’, as I’m sure you know, is in large part the ability to minimize footprint and reduce collateral damage. In the 21st century, you can’t screw outcries. Everything and anything can be used for political, propaganda purposes. We have to minimize what we make available for these assholes. I’m sure you see the the fallout from accidental drone strikes on civilian targets or the effects of showing detainee abuses, showing enhanced interrogation or extraordinary rendition reports, photos is so dangerous. Decimating a small town full of civilians would be way worse.
    I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the beheading by ISIS was actually the response to American actions, namely the airstrikes that has several ISIS leaders scrambling for Syria where they have improved cover. Obama called ISIS terrorists when he first authorized strikes on convoys advancing on Irbil and when authorizing strikes around Mosul Damn. Whether it’s Stevens or now Foley, I really wish people would stop trying to use dead American bodies to politically slam an administration. It’s disgusting.

  • James says:

    I read the NYT’s ‘breaking news’ article. I wonder how this leak came about. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the NYT was the initiator of it; possibly by ‘listening in’ or eavesdropping on his family.
    Notice in the story that the family was initially made aware of the attempted rescue.
    This could be seen as easily conceivable due to the amount of publicity and television coverage the now-deceased hostage and his family have garnered over this.
    Concerning the news media in general, where have their ethical standards gone? They claim to cherish and be the vanguards of free expression. Yet, these thugs are out to bring about the very destruction of those liberties we all should fight for.

  • Mike B says:

    In 84 strikes the military has confirmed that they struck a total of 12 targets. Either there is serious overkill or the use of the word strike has replaced sortie.

  • Vern says:

    The failure to locate and free the hostages is an indicator that we have lost some of our intelligence sources. Looks like the total pull out of US forces from Iraq in 2011 is paying bitter dividends.

  • Alex says:

    So…why are we announcing it? We basically gave IS a PR victory here, when we could have just said that we launched a raid against IS in Syria and left it at that, to strike fear in them. Now we just look incompetent.

  • BB says:

    JT. May be If Obama had use this retoric just to facilitate the realease of the american journalist.
    I hope they punish them enough for their actions.

  • Dominic Chan says:

    They should never have allow this to be published. Now how are they ever going to bring the hostages back. Once this information is in the news, the chances are that the fate of the hostages now are worst than ever and they’d be shifted from place to place frequently. So no matter how good the intel is, at the end of the day, its a zero. They should never have allow this to be known until the hostages are safely back in America.


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