WASHINGTON — U.S. ground troops attempted but failed to rescue several American hostages in Syria in early July, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
"This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within" territory controlled by the militant group Islamic State, Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location."
Journalist James Foley was one of those hostages included in the attempted rescue mission, a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity because Foley's identity was not authorized to be said publicly.
Foley was executed by the members of the Islamic State on Tuesday. The group displayed the execution by beheading in a video posted online.
The National Security Council confirmed to USA TODAY on Wednesday that it chose to go public with the announcement because it was about to be reported publicly by the media.
The NSC released this statement on Wednesday that it attributed to spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden: "We never intended to disclose this operation. An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible. We only went public today when it was clear a number of media outlets were preparing to report on the operation and that we would have no choice but to acknowledge it."
The rescue attempt involved U.S. special operations forces who killed several militants during the raid, according to a Defense Department official briefed on the rescue attempt but not authorized to speak about details on the record. One U.S. pilot suffered minor wounds during the mission.
The rescue attempt of Americans held hostage by the Islamic State occurred earlier this summer, according to a statement from Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
President Obama "authorized action at this time because it was the national security team's assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in (Islamic State) custody," Monaco said.