The U.S. military earlier this summer carried out an attempt to rescue journalist James Foley and other American hostages held in Syria, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, in an operation that the Pentagon said ultimately failed to find the captives.
Foley, 40, was beheaded by an Islamic State militant in a video that surfaced on the Internet on Tuesday. President Barack Obama expressed revulsion on Wednesday at the execution and vowed the United States would do what it must to protect its citizens.
The unsuccessful rescue operation "involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL," the Pentagon said in a statement, using a different name for the militant group. "Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location."
Officials would not say exactly when the operation took place but said it was not in the last couple of weeks.
Obama authorized the mission "earlier this summer," Lisa Monaco, Obama's top counterterrorism aide, said in a separate statement. "The President 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 ISIL custody," she said.
Islamic State said Foley's execution, which prompted widespread horror that could push Western powers into further action against the group, was in revenge for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.
The Pentagon said U.S. aircraft conducted 14 airstrikes in the vicinity of Iraq's Mosul Dam, destroying or damaging militants' Humvees, trucks and explosives.
Britain's prime minister cut short his vacation as UK intelligence tried to identify Foley's killer, while France called for international coordination against the Islamist militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.
U.S. officials said on Wednesday that intelligence analysts had concluded that the Islamic State video, titled "A Message to America," was authentic. It also showed images of another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, whose fate the group said depends on how the United States acts in Iraq.
The gruesome video presented Obama with bleak options that could define American involvement in Iraq and the public reaction to it, potentially dragging him further into a conflict he built much of his presidency on ending.
Obama called the beheading of Foley "an act of violence that shocked the conscience of the entire world" and said the militants had killed innocent civilians, subjected women and children to torture, rape and slavery and targeted Muslims, Christians and religious minorities.
"So ISIL speaks for