Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday condemned the execution of an American journalist by Islamic militants and vowed further attempts to rescue those still being held captive.
Hagel offered his "deepest condolences" to the family of James Foley, the freelance journalist who was beheaded by a suspected British militant with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the al-Qaida inspired Islamic group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria and circulated gruesome video of the execution late Tuesday.
Hagel said Foley was "savagely murdered" and that U.S. officials regret that a previously classified mission to rescue him and other hostages earlier this summer in Syria didn’t succeed.
"But I’m very proud of the U.S. forces that participated," he said during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon. "The U.S. will not relent in our efforts to bring our citizens home."
The Pentagon on Wednesday confirmed the previously undisclosed rescue operation involving air and ground components after being contacted by media about it. Foley was being held with at least one other hostage. In the video, militants threaten to kill another American journalist, Steven Sotloff.
"Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location," Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. "The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable."
During the briefing with reporters on Thursday, Hagel rejected the notion that the mission wasn't successful because of an intelligence failure.
"The fact is, as you all know, intelligence doesn’t come wrapped in a package with a bow," the secretary said. "It is a mosaic of many pictures of many factors. The enemy always has a say." He added, "This operation, by the way, was flawless, but the hostages were not there."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said the decision of whether to release the information about the mission was a policy call, so long as the sources and methods of the raid weren’t revealed. When asked explicitly whether he believed the hostages were at the target location at some point, Dempsey said, "I do."
The Pentagon briefing came hours after Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called for a federal investigation to determine who leaked information about the mission.
"Successful or not, such operations are incredibly sensitive, even after they have concluded," the congressman said in a release. "Disclosure of these missions puts our troops at risk, reduces the likelihood that future missions will succeed, and risks the lives of hostages and informants alike."
McKeon added, "It is outrageous that someone would be so selfish and short sighted to leak it to the media. Secretary Hagel should investigate this matter immediately and thoroughly to determine who, if anyone, at the Department of Defense was the source of this damaging leak. Likewise, the heads of the other agencies involved should take similar steps."
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at email@example.com