The White House is pushing back on a report in the Sunday Times earlier this week that said Obama “took too long” to authorise the mission to rescue James Foley and other American hostages held by ISIS militants, a decision that journalist Toby Harnden reported made the mission impossible.
The report, which offers a broad overview of the failed July 4 mission to rescue Foley, had two paragraphs which were very interesting:
Pentagon sources said Foley and the others might well have been rescued but Obama, concerned about the ramifications of US troops being killed or captured in Syria, took too long to authorise the mission.
Anthony Shaffer, a former lieutenant-colonel in US military intelligence who worked on covert operations, said: “I’m told it was almost a 30-day delay from when they said they wanted to go to when he finally gave the green light. They were ready to go in June to grab the guy [Foley] and they weren’t permitted.”
For what it’s worth, Harnden, who has been a journalist for 20 years, uses the word sources — so while they are anonymous we know there are at least two — and his follow-up statement from Anthony Shaffer lends some credibility, as it comes from an ex-Army officer with the Defence Intelligence Agency. (He also wrote a book which the Pentagon bought up just so it could destroy all the copies since it reportedly contained intelligence secrets, according to The New York Times).
In a later tweet that was widely circulated, Harnden said a senior Pentagon official confirmed to him “that ‘hesitation’ by President Obama” delayed the mission. The account of the National Security Council immediately pushed back:
That didn’t exactly satisfy Harnden, who called it a “non-denial denial,” which NSC also pushed back on:
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby also jumped in:
So it seems the timeline of the rescue mission is in dispute, but the Times is holding firm.
In a statement to The Hill, Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco said: “The President authorised action at this time because it was the national security team’s assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in [ISIS] custody.”
What is not really in dispute is that the operation was large, involving “several dozen” U.S. special operations troops in helicopters that were supported by an AC-130 gunship near Raqqah, Syria. The troops landed and found a prison with no hostages, but around 100 ISIS militants fighting them. Roughly 15 militants were killed before special ops left the scene.
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