U.S. Reveals Failed Special Forces Mission To Rescue Hostages

The Obama administration's admission comes on the heels of the release of a video by the militant group known as the Islamic State, which depicts the killing of American journalist James Foley.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Obama administration officials revealed this evening that U.S. special forces recently attempted to rescue U.S. hostages in Syria. The mission was unsuccessful. The statement comes after the release of a video depicting the murder of journalist James Foley. Foley was killed by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. Today, his parents spoke about their son.

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D. FOLEY: He always hoped that this would - he would come home. That was his hope, and he sustained all the others who were with him, really, with that hope.

CORNISH: In a moment we'll here more about James Foley's life and work, but first we turn to NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, about that attempted rescue mission. And Tom, so far, what have you learned about this?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Audie, what we've learned is that U.S. military personnel moved into Syrian by helicopters. They were special operators. That could have been Green Berets, Navy Seals, or the anti-terror units - Delta Force or Seal Team Six. We were told they had pretty good intelligence. They had human intelligence about the location of these American hostages - also voice intercepts from radio or telephone and also signals from satellites or drones. So they had pretty good intelligence. But we're told that once they arrived, the hostages were not at the location they thought they would be at and that shots were exchanged as well with Islamic State fighters. And they believe they killed some Islamic State fighters. And there was only a minor injury to one of the U.S. military personnel. And again, they were not at the location, so they just left Syrian air space.

CORNISH: The reports on this say that it happened recently. What does that mean?

BOWMAN: All we know is that it happened earlier this summer. That's all officials would say. They didn't want to pinpoint the exact time.

CORNISH: Tom, in the video that showed the killing of James Foley, the man who executed him talks about the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq - airstrikes that are targeting the group The Islamic State. Now, until now, people have looked at this group as being focused on Syrian and Iraq. Is this suggesting that they're turning towards the U.S.?

BOWMAN: Yes. A number of these fighters come from Europe and the United States - hundreds of them. So one of the big concerns here is that these fighters will come from the United States, become more radicalized, let's say, fight for a time in Syria or Iraq, and then go back to the U.S. - go back to Europe, and take the fight to some of the cities there. Of course, as we all know, that there was one Islamic State fighter from Florida who blew himself up in a truck filled with explosives. And there was also some Islamic State fighters who went back to Paris and attacked a synagogue and killed several people.

CORNISH: Finally, Tom, let's talk about the choices for the president now. I mean, as the U.S. engages with Islamic State militants, could the U.S. mission escalate?

BOWMAN: Well, it's definitely escalating, Audie, because there have been a number of airstrikes in Iraq by the U.S. to go after some of the militants going into Erbil and also those around the Mosul dam. So it has escalated. And this also plans to give more weapons to the Kurdish fighters and Iraqi fighters who are, you know, battling the Islamic State fighters. And also, once the Iraqi government gets up and running, there's a sense that there will be some sort of an American train-and-assist program for the Iraqi government itself. So there's more that will be done by the American government.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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