We Tried To Save Them

Nicholas Schmidle gets the inside story on the June raid that failed to rescue James Foley and Steven Sotloff from ISIS:

Anticipating a possible rescue mission, a unit of Delta Force operators left from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, destined for a base in a country neighboring Syria. A geosynchronous satellite monitored the supposed safe house. On July 3rd, a little after 2 A.M. local time, several Black Hawk helicopters left the base, according to the special-operations officer, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to discuss the operation. Some of the Black Hawks carried Delta Force operators; others were Direct Action Penetrators, or DAPs, which do not carry personnel and are modified with rocket pods, 2.75-inch rockets, and chain guns. All of the aircraft crossed into Syrian airspace and headed toward the site outside of Raqqa.

As the helicopters approached the target, two armed Predator drones joined the operation, circling overhead.

(Warplanes were also in the vicinity, “on standby.”) With the DAPs providing cover, the manned helicopters landed and unloaded the team of Delta operators. A gunfight ensued, and two ISIS fighters were killed. The soldiers stormed the apparent safe house, but Foley and Sotloff were nowhere to be found. “It was a dry hole,” the special-operations officer said. The house matched, room for room, the sketches that the F.B.I. had. At one point, a bullet struck one of the helicopter pilots in the leg. The special-operations officer said that the Delta operators were confident that Foley and Sotloff had been there.

Meanwhile, speaking from her perspective as a former prisoner/hostage in Iran, Sarah Shourd urges the US to reconsider its policy of not paying ransoms:

The most frequently sited argument against paying ransom is that by doing so you fund terrorist organizations and create an incentive for groups like ISIS to capture more Americans. There is no doubt in my mind that this argument holds weight.

Still, there is more to consider. After over a year in isolated, incommunicado detention in Iran, during which I was never tried in court or allowed to meet with my lawyer, I was released to the Omani government in exchange for half a million dollars “bail”—in actuality a thinly veiled ransom. Regardless of who pays it, ransom is ransom. What’s the quantitative difference in paying ransom directly as opposed to through a third party when it comes to creating incentive and/or rewarding hostage taking?

The reality is that the U.S. government does negotiate for the release of U.S. hostages, and they clearly do this because they decide the benefits outweigh the risks.

Previous Dish on Foley’s “impossible ransom” here and here. My thoughts on the beheadings here.