The Pentagon’s top general said Tuesday that the failed special forces mission to rescue James Foley and other hostages being kept by Islamic State militants was the toughest he’s ever seen.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, didn’t go into details, but said the effort expended should answer some of the criticisms raised that the U.S. government didn’t do enough to try to get hostages released.
“That was the most complex, highest-risk mission we’ve ever taken,” the Army general said.
Foley, a reporter captured in 2012, was beheaded by an Islamic State terrorist in a brutal execution the militants filmed and released on the Internet on Aug. 19.
Foley’s parents have complained that the U.S. government didn’t communicate with them about steps that were being taken to try to free him, and said they were told they could be prosecuted if they tried to pay a ransom.
While Gen. Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wouldn’t go into details of the rescue mission, they said it showed they were trying to do something.
“We have some limitations in our ability to collect intelligence inside Syria, but when we had the opportunity to do so, we tried to get ‘em,” Gen. Dempsey said.
Mr. Hagel said that while there are boundaries to what the U.S. can do, including a strict policy that the country does not pay ransoms, officials could do a better job of “dealing with families and the human part of this.”
During the mission, which reportedly took place earlier in the summer, special operations forces slipped into Syria but were unable to locate Foley or other hostages, who had apparently been moved in the time since the last intelligence the U.S. had.
Some military officials have reportedly second-guessed President Obama’s decision-making, with one report saying that his hesitation to give the go-ahead reduced the chances for success.
The White House, though, said Mr. Obama gave the go-ahead as soon as they believed the mission could be carried out successfully.
Islamic State militants have also killed American journalist Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines. But another American reporter, Peter Theo Curtis, was released late last month, apparently by the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-linked group.