Obama vows justice for killers of U.S. journalist, rescue mission failed

By By Lesley Clark, Nancy A. Youssef And Jonathan S. Landay

McClatchy Washington Bureau (MCT)

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

This photo posted on the website freejamesfoley.org shows journalist James Foley in Aleppo, Syria, in September, 2012. The family of an American journalist says he went missing in Syria more than one month ago while covering the civil war there. A statement released online Wednesday by the family of James Foley said he was kidnapped in northwest Syria by unknown gunmen on Thanksgiving day.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed justice for the Islamist killers of American journalist James Foley, as officials revealed that U.S. forces had launched a secret raid inside Syria last month to rescue him and other captives only to find they had been moved.

As Obama spoke, U.S. forces launched 14 new airstrikes against the Islamic State, in defiance of the group’s threat Tuesday to kill a second American journalist if Obama didn’t end the attacks. European leaders, meanwhile, moved toward a more aggressive stand.

Obama stressed that U.S. airstrikes would continue, and he indicated that the United States would pursue Foley’s killers.

“When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done. And we act against ISIL, standing alongside others,” he said, using the official U.S. acronym for the Islamic State, a spinoff of al-Qaida.

White House officials pointed to last month’s attempt to underscore that the U.S. would spare no effort.

A team of several dozen U.S. special forces operators entered Syria over the July 4 weekend, only to discover once on the ground that the captives had been moved, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The raid is the first known instance of U.S. troops crossing into Syria since the civil war erupted there in mid-2012. The disclosure offered insight into how much intelligence the United States had gathered on the whereabouts of Foley and the undisclosed number of other Americans held by the Islamic State.

Obama authorized the raid after several threads of intelligence pinpointed the location of the prisoners, senior administration officials 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,” said Lisa Monaco, an assistant national security adviser.

The force arrived at the site by air, conducted a search on foot and left after discovering that the hostages were not there, the officials said. The U.S. troops came under fire as they departed and shot back, and one special forces operator was injured aboard one of the departing aircraft.

“We do believe that there were a good number of ISIL casualties,” a senior administration official said.

The officials declined to disclose how long the operators were on the ground or where the raid took place.

Many experts believe that Foley and other foreigners were being held in northern Syria, large parts of which were overrun in 2013 by the Islamic State, which established its headquarters in Raqqa, the provincial capital of a northeastern Syrian province of the same name.

An Islamic State aide told McClatchy on July 4 that helicopter-borne American forces flew into the al Ikairsha area of Raqqa province and stormed an Islamic State base named Camp Osama bin Laden.

The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the U.S. raiding party killed five militants and injured many more before departing.

The Islamic State viewed the attack as “strange” and saw it as the start of a “sacred war” between the group and “the grandchildren of apes and pigs,” the aide said.

While Obama has vowed U.S. combat troops won’t return to Iraq, the Pentagon is considering a request from the State Department to send additional U.S. military to Iraq to boost security for U.S. personnel based there, said a U.S. official who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

The request was up to 300 additional security personnel in and around Baghdad, the official said, adding “there are no indications it was in response to a specific threat against Americans in Baghdad.”

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