When it comes to combatting ISIS, the Obama administration has precious few successes to talk about. So today it touted a failure:
U.S. Special Operations forces staged an unsuccessful operation this summer to rescue photojournalist James Foley and other Americans being held in Syria by Islamic State militants, according to senior Obama administration officials.
The attempt, involving several dozen U.S. commandos, one of whom was injured in a fierce firefight with the militants, was the first known U.S. ground operation in Syria since the country’s descent into civil war. It came after at least six European hostages freed by the militants last spring had been debriefed by U.S. intelligence.
This information comes right after the beheading of ISIS hostage Jim Foley. Obviously, Team Obama wants to show the American public that it did what it could to save Foley, and it should be commended for the attempt.
But public relations aside, was it wise for the administration to make this announcement? That’s not clear.
The rescue team did not find the hostages; they had been moved. Our warriors ended up fighting Syrian “militants.” Thus, it’s highly probable that ISIS knew about a rescue attempt at the time it occurred.
On the other hand, the administration didn’t disclose the mission until after Foley’s slaying. Thus, it must have perceived either some strategic advantage or some advantage to Foley in keeping quiet. And if there was a perceived advantage to Foley, it may have resided in ISIS not knowing for certain that there had been an American rescue mission. Other than for PR purposes, why reveal this?
There’s also the question of whether the administration released too much information. For example, a senior administration” said that the rescue operation “was conducted by a joint force with virtually every service represented, including “special operators and aircraft both rotary and fixed wing,” with surveillance aircraft overhead. Why reveal this sort of detail? It might be useful information for terrorists holding other Americans.
After the raid that killed bin Laden, there reportedly was consternation within the intelligence and military communities about the amount of detail provided by Team Obama. Arguably, this is something of a repeat performance.
The administration should err on the side of reticence about sensitive operations even if it means some measure of sacrifice in the quest to make Obama look good.