US special ops tried but failed to find hostages

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US special ops tried but failed to find hostages
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: People attend a special mass in remembrance of journalist James Foley at Our Lady of the Rosary Church for August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: People attend a special mass in remembrance of journalist James Foley at Our Lady of the Rosary Church for August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Parishioners wait to greet the family of James Foley after a Catholic mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. The family and friends of murdered US journalist James Foley attended the memorial mass, offering prayers for the safety of his fellow hostages in Syria.  AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A parishioner holds a prayer card in memory of James Foley after a Catholic mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary parish August 24, 2014, in Rochester, New Hampshire. The family and friends of murdered US journalist James Foley attended the memorial mass and offered prayers for the safety of his fellow hostages in Syria. AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Diane and John Foley, parents of James Foley, address the congregation during a Catholic mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary parish August 24, 2014, in Rochester, New Hampshire. The family and friends of murdered US journalist James Foley attended the memorial mass and offered prayers for the safety of his fellow hostages in Syria. AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A parishioner walks past a display of photos of James Foley before a Catholic mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. The family and friends of murdered US journalist James Foley are attending the memorial mass and offering prayers for the safety of his fellow hostages in Syria.  AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Parishioners walk past a display of photos of James Foley before a Catholic mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. The family and friends of murdered US journalist James Foley are attending the memorial mass and offering prayers for the safety of his fellow hostages in Syria.  AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
John Foley, father of James Foley, greets supporters after a Catholic mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary parish August 24, 2014, in Rochester, New Hampshire. The memorial service was held for James Foley, a US journalist beheaded by Islamic State fighters after he was kidnapped in Syria in November. AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
John Foley, father of James Foley, greets supporters after a Catholic mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary parish August 24, 2014, in Rochester, New Hampshire. The memorial service was held for James Foley, a US journalist beheaded by Islamic State fighters after he was kidnapped in Syria in November .AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: People leave the Our Lady of the Rosary Church after a special mass in remembrance of James Foley for August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: Diane Foley receives a hug following a special mass in remembrance of her son James Foley at Our Lady of the Rosary Church for August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: People leave the Our Lady of the Rosary Church after a special mass in remembrance of James Foley for August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Diane and John Foley, parents of journalilst James Foley, sit for a portrait at their home during an interview August 24, 2014, in Rochester, New Hampshire. A memorial service will be held later August 24 for Foley, a US journalist beheaded by Islamic State fighters after he was kidnapped in Syria in November. AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: People leave the Our Lady of the Rosary Church after a special mass in remembrance of James Foley August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Journalist James Foley was recently executed by Islamic militants. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: John (2nd L) and Diane Foley (2nd R) greet people following a special mass in remembrance of their son James Foley at Our Lady of the Rosary Church for August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
EDGARTOWN, MA - AUGUST 20: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about the execution of American journalist James Foley by ISIS terrorists in Iraq during a press briefing at the press filing center at the Edgartown School August 20, 2014 in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. A video released shows an ISIS militant beheading Foley in what is believed to be retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. The militant then threatens the life of another American hostage, Steven Sotloff, who is also missing. (Photo by Rick Friedman-Pool/Getty Images)
Diane Foley, mother of James Foley, pauses for a moment during an interview at her home August 24, 2014, in Rochester, New Hampshire. A memorial service will be held later August 24 for Foley, a US journalist beheaded by Islamic State fighters after he was kidnapped in Syria in November. AFP PHOTO/DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: A picture stands at Our Lady of the Rosary Church for a special mass in remembrance of journalist James Foley August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
FILE - This undated file still image from video released April 7, 2011, by GlobalPost, shows James Foley of Rochester, N.H., a freelance contributor for GlobalPost, in Benghazi, Libya. A Libyan government spokesman says four journalists detained since early April have completed an administrative hearing and will be released Tuesday or Wednesday.(AP Photo/GlobalPost, File)
Diane and John Foley talk to reporters after speaking with U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 outside their home in Rochester, N.H. Their son, James Foley was abducted in November 2012 while covering the Syrian conflict. Islamic militants posted a video showing his murder on Tuesday and said they killed him because the U.S. had launched airstrikes in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
FILE - In this May 27, 2011 file photo American Journalist James Foley, of Rochester, N.H., poses for a photo in Boston. The parents of Foley, kidnapped in Syria more than four months ago, said Thursday April 4, 2013 that his latest disappearance is more upsetting than an earlier one in Libya because they don’t know who is holding him. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: People attend a special mass in remembrance of journalist James Foley at Our Lady of the Rosary Church for August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: People attend a special mass in remembrance of journalist James Foley at Our Lady of the Rosary Church for August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
After speaking with U.S. President Barack Obama by phone, John and Diane Foley talk to reporters, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, outside their home in Rochester, N.H. Their son James Foley was abducted in November 2012 while covering the Syrian conflict. Islamic militants posted a video showing his murder on Tuesday and said they killed him because the U.S. had launched airstrikes in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Family friends listen as Diane and John Foley talk to reporters Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, outside their home in Rochester, N.H., after speaking with President Obama. There son, James Foley was abducted in November 2012 while covering the Syrian conflict. Islamic militants posted a video showing his murder on Tuesday and said they killed him because the U.S. had launched airstrikes in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speak in Edgartown, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, about the killing of American journalist James Foley by militants with the Islamic State extremist group. The president said the US will continue to confront Islamic State extremists despite the brutal murder of journalist James Foley. Obama said the entire world is "appalled" by Foley's killing. The president says he spoke Wednesday with Foley's family and offered condolences. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: Pictures stand at Our Lady of the Rosary Church for a special mass in remembrance of journalist James Foley August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 24: People enter Our Lady of the Rosary Church for a special mass in remembrance of journalist James Foley August 24, 2014 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Foley was recently executed by ISIS Islamic militants in Syria, with the militants reportedly saying it was is retaliation for U.S. airstrikes In Iraq. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
John and Diane Foley talk to reporters after speaking with U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 outside their home in Rochester, N.H. Their son, James Foley was abducted in November 2012 while covering the Syrian conflict. Islamic militants posted a video showing his murder on Tuesday and said they killed him because the U.S. had launched airstrikes in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Diane and John Foley talk to reporters after speaking with U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 outside their home in Rochester, N.H. Their son, James Foley was abducted in November 2012 while covering the Syrian conflict. Islamic militants posted a video showing his murder on Tuesday and said they killed him because the U.S. had launched airs trikes in northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
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By JULIE PACE

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama sent special operations troops to Syria this summer on a secret mission to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, held by Islamic State extremists, but they did not find them, officials say.

The rescue mission was authorized after intelligence agencies believed they had identified the location inside Syria where the hostages were being held, administration officials said Wednesday. But the several dozen special operations forces dropped by aircraft into Syria did not find them at that location and engaged in a firefight with Islamic State militants before departing, killing several militants. No Americans died but one sustained a minor injury when an aircraft was hit.

"The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens," said Lisa Monaco, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, in a statement. "Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present."

Officials revealed the rescue operation a day after the militants released a video showing the beheading of Foley and threatened to kill a second hostage, Steven Sotloff, if U.S. airstrikes against the militants in Iraq continued.

Despite the militants' threats, the U.S. launched a new barrage of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq Wednesday. The Obama administration did not rule out the prospect of a military operation in Syria to bring those responsible for Foley's death to justice.

Disclosure of the rescue mission marks the first time the U.S. has revealed that American military personnel have been on the ground in Syria since a bloody civil war there broke out more than three years ago. Obama has resisted calls to insert the U.S. military in the middle of Syria's war, a cautious approach his critics say has allowed the Islamic State to strengthen there and make gains across the border in Iraq.

Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said the administration never intended to disclose the operation. But she said the U.S. went public Wednesday because a number of media outlets were preparing to report on the operation and the administration "would have no choice but to acknowledge it."

In a statement Wednesday night, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said: "As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harm's way to try and bring our citizens home."

It's unclear how many Americans the special forces attempted to rescue in Syria. While the officials who described the mission would not provide an exact number, other U.S. officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly, have said Foley was one of at least four Americans held in Syria.

Like Foley, two others are believed to have been kidnapped by the Islamic State. The fourth, freelance journalist Austin Tice, disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and is believed to be in the custody of government forces in Syria.

Administration officials would not say specifically when or where the operation took place, citing the need to protect operational details in order to preserve the ability to carry out future rescue missions. They did say that nearly every branch of the military was involved and that the special forces on the ground were supported from the air by fixed wing, rotary and surveillance aircraft.

Obama has authorized previous military missions to rescue hostages. In 2009, Navy SEAL snipers carried out a daring sea operation to rescue an American ship captain held by Somali pirates in a lifeboat. And in 2012, special operations forces successfully rescued two aid workers - an American and a Dane - held in Somalia.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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