Pentagon officials confirmed Thursday that a mission to rescue prisoners held by the terrorist group ISIS, including now-deceased American photojournalist James Foley, had been launched earlier this year in Syria, but that the extraction team had failed to locate the hostages.
News of the failed rescue attempt came to light earlier this week after the White House suddenly decided to disclose details of the covert mission, explaining at the time of the announcement that a leak to the press had forced it to go public with the story.
“There were a number of news outlets that were aware of the action, of the raid,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday. “It was a decision made by the administration, which we concurred with, to address the mission.”
"Also, the administration had informed the families of the hostages of this effort. So it was the decision and it was unanimous that we should, in fact, acknowledge this effort without going into any of the specifics of it, which we, as you know, will not."
And although several ISIS members were reportedly killed in a firefight with U.S. troops, the rescue team failed to locate and rescue the hostages, because they weren't where they had been expected to be.
But amid all the details and information regarding the rescue attempt some serious questions emerge: Why would U.S. officials admit to launching a failed bid to retrieve ISIS prisoners? Why did the mission fail? How did news of this confidential mission get “leaked” to the press?
Several experts have responded to the news by criticizing the White House for what they say is a major breach of security.
“I think this is a stunning breach of security for the United States,” former State Department official John Bolton said just hours before Hagel announced that the Pentagon and the White House decided jointly to make the details of the raid known.
“This is exactly the sort of thing that should remain completely confidential for 50 years, number one, because it tells people what we try to do. Number two, it's an admission of failure. Well, the United States tried again and couldn't do it. Number three, whoever was — we relied upon, whoever gave us the tip is now in jeopardy from the Islamic State and they will be dead already. This is just not something you do."
Robert Caruso, a navy intelligence veteran, in a recent interview with the Guardian added to these thoughts, questioning the wisdom of releasing information about U.S. mission tactics.
Groups such as ISIS "lie about where they are, where they're going to be in two hours, and they definitely don't talk about it on the telephone,” he said.
"It's pretty cavalier for the administration to condemn [National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden] and turn around and endanger the remaining hostages That's not [operational security]. I've taught it, to the military and the State Department. That's not [operational security]," he said
The criticism even extends to Congress where Rep. Buck McKeon, R- Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has called for an investigation into the leak that supposedly forced the White House's hand.
“Successful or not, such operations are incredibly sensitive, even after they have concluded. Disclosure of these missions puts our troops at risk, reduces the likelihood that future missions will succeed, and risks the lives of hostages and informants alike,” McKeon said in a statement.
“While I believe it was unwise for the White House and Department of Defense to formally acknowledge this operation; it is outrageous that someone would be so selfish and short sighted to leak it to the media. Secretary Hagel should investigate this matter immediately and thoroughly to determine who, if anyone, at the Department of Defense was the source of this damaging leak. Likewise, the heads of the other agencies involved should take similar steps."
And these are all important criticisms and questions.
Indeed, considering the threat ISIS poses to its neighbors, the people of Iraq and U.S. allies in that region, one wonders why would the Obama administration would publicly admit that it had botched its efforts to rescue American citizens.
Does this admission not embolden America's enemies? Does this not also terrify U.S. allies?
Remember, administration officials are now very open about the grave and terrible threat ISIS poses, declaring boldly that it’s not an organization to be trifled with or underestimated.
“They can be contained, but not in perpetuity. This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.
Hagel added: “They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.”
ISIS “is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen,” Hagel said. “They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess, they are tremendously well-funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen, so we must prepare for everything.”
Okay, we understand ISIS is dangerous, top Obama administration officials. So why would you announce to this extremely clever and cancerous terrorist group that it had successfully thwarted a U.S. rescue mission?
Why would Gen. Dempsey say: "The mission was executed flawlessly after a significant period of preparation and planning and rehearsal. And the — it turned out that the hostages were no longer at that location.”
Why would Hagel say that the mission failed due to a "mosaic of many pictures, of many factors”?
Again, as Bolton mentioned, wouldn’t discretion be beneficial to ongoing efforts to save hostages from the clutches of blood crazed, murderous madmen? Wouldn't it be in America's interest not to look incompetent in the face of adversity?
Yes, government transparency is extremely important. But does releasing information on the raid help U.S. national interests? Or does releasing the information merely give the impression that the very aloof and very detached President Obama is somehow engaged on the issue while he spends his time playing golf?
Something tells us the latter played a very, very large role in the final decision to go public with details of the failed mission. Obama's can't look completely detached from the issue, can he? Of course not. So throw the people a few details. That'll keep them happy.