US freelance reporter James Foley, left, is seen in a 2011 file photo in Libya. Jihadist group the Islamic State claimed Aug. 19 to have executed Foley in revenge for US airstrikes against its fighters in Iraq. (Aris Messinis / AFP)
WASHINGTON — US personnel recently tried to rescue American hostages held in Syria by the so-called Islamic State (IS) but failed, the Pentagon and White House said Wednesday, a day after the militants released a video of a US reporter being beheaded.
“The United States attempted a rescue operation recently to free a number of American hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (IS),” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
“This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL (IS).
“Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location.”
The White House said in a separate statement that the rescue attempt was authorized “earlier this summer.”
American reporter James Foley was kidnapped in northern Syria in November 2012.
The video of his execution, released Tuesday, also showed a second US reporter, Steven Sotloff, being paraded on screen.
It was not immediately clear if either reporter was the target of the failed US rescue mission.
IS, also known as ISIL, considers Washington its arch enemy and has overrun large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
It says it represents the aspirations of a global Muslim caliphate.
“As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity,” said Kirby.
“In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home.”
In a White House statement on the rescue attempt, Lisa Monaco, assistant to President Barack Obama for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said: “The president authorized action at this time because it was the national security team’s assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in ISIL custody.
“The US government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens.