Updated August 20 8:08 p.m.: The U.S. National Security Council has released a statement explaining why they chose to go public today regarding their attempted rescue operation in Syria.
“We never intended to disclose this 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,” said NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden. “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.”
One day after a graphic video was posted on YouTube showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, the Pentagon revealed there was an attempt to rescue “a number of American hostages held in Syria.” But the mission failed.
“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,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. Kirby said in a statement Wednesday.
While Kirby did not mention Foley by name, a White House official confirmed to TheWrap, that Foley was among the hostages U.S. forces attempted to rescue.
Foley was abducted in November 2012 and eventually executed in a video posted by ISIS on YouTube Tuesday. The video was quickly removed, but not before it was viewed and shared countless times. The authenticity of the video was confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies on Wednesday.
The Pentagon insists extraordinary efforts were made to save Foley’s life. “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. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home,” Rear Adm. Kirby said.
“The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can,” he continued. “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.”
President Obama denounced the violent actions of the radical group, also known as ISIS, Wednesday. While addressing the nation he called Foley’s execution an “act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world” and characterized ISIS’s ideology as “a cancer that must not spread.”
“People like this ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy,” Obama said. “The world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.”
Secretary of State John Kerry also released a statement on the killing. “Nothing could stop him from sharing with the world the reality of what was happening on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the struggle against a brutal dictator in Libya, and he was just as determined to do the same from Syria,” he said.
“He was brave and bold, and no masked coward can ever steal the legacy of this courageous American who lived out the meaning of the word journalism.”
Steven Sotloff, an American contributor to Time is still being held hostage by ISIS. He was shown in same video in which Foley was beheaded. A militant standing next to Sotloff said his fate rests in President Obama’s hands.