The Operation To Rescue American Hostages In Syria Was Much Larger Than We Realised

The failed U.S. mission to rescue a number of hostages being held by the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria earlier this summer was a much larger operation than previously realised, according to new reporting by James Gordon Meek and Lee Ferran at ABC News.

The mission, carried out by U.S. Special Operations soldiers flown to the target location near Raqqah, Syria by the 160th Special Operations Air Regiment (SOAR), involved at least 24 soldiers and was supported by helicopters and an Air Force AC-130 gunship — a modified cargo plane with sophisticated electronics and weaponry — providing close air support.

Compared to the Bin Laden raid in Abottabad, Pakistan in 2011, with the main effort of Navy SEALs hitting the target with just two helicopters (carrying between 11-14 men each), the Syria mission involved at least “several dozen” U.S. troops with a dedicated support aircraft taking out targets from overhead. With what we know so far, this operation was huge, and arguably even more risky.

“This operation was a flawless operation,” Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a Thursday press conference of the mission, which had only one U.S. soldier being wounded. “But the hostages were not there.”

According to ABC News, U.S. forces on the ground kicked over a hornet’s nest in Raqqah — an IS stronghold — and engaged in a heavy battle with more than 100 militants, approximately 15 of which were killed in the engagement. The special ops left the scene soon after realising the hostages they were looking for were not there.

“Was it a failure of intelligence? No. Intelligence doesn’t come wrapped in a package with a bow,” Hagel said. “It’s a mosaic of many pictures, of many factors, and the enemy always has a say. The underlying objective was to do everything we could to rescue these hostages, knowing that their lives were in danger, clearly in danger.”

Jim foleyNicole TungJames Foley

James Foley, a reporter for GlobalPost who was murdered by IS militants earlier this week, was not the only American citizen held by the terror group that U.S. forces were looking for. At least three other Americans, to include another reporter — Steven Sotloff — are believed to be in the group’s custody, bringing the total count of foreign hostages to around 20, according to The Guardian.

While the Pentagon declined to comment exactly on where and when the operation took place, a social media post by a Syrian activist seemed to reveal a commando raid in the same area the evening of July 3, carried out by soldiers riding in “silent helicopters” who spoke a foreign language, BuzzFeed reported. A Syrian news agency later reported this operation on July 6.

Blackhawk helicoptersAPBlack Hawk helicopters.

The allusion to “silent helicopters” suggests the possibility that highly-modified Blackhawk helicopters, similar to those used in the Bin Laden raid, were used in the mission, although the exact helicopter type was unknown. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that special helicopters were used in the raid, which were outfitted with an “advanced suite of aircraft survivability equipment.”

The mission failed to rescue the hostages but did uncover “unspecified materials” from the militant group.

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