Yesterday, the news broke that the United States had tried to rescue James Foley and several other American hostages of ISIS somewhere in Syria. As The New York Times explains:
The officials — speaking a day after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria posted a video showing the American journalist James Foley being beheaded — described what they called a “complicated operation” in which the commandos were dropped by helicopter into Syrian territory in an attempt to rescue Mr. Foley and others being held by the Sunni militant group.
The Army commandos fought their way to the spot where they believed that ISIS was hiding the hostages, the officials said. But when the team swooped in, the hostages were gone. “We’re not sure why they were moved,” a Defense Department official said. “By the time we got there, it was too late.” The official said it may have been “a matter of hours, perhaps a day or two” since the hostages had been there.
One of the American commandos was slightly wounded in the skirmish, which lasted several minutes before American aircraft flew the soldiers to safety. At least one of the aircraft came under fire, but all members of the team were evacuated successfully. The administration officials said they believed a number of the terrorists were killed.
The news of this raid was released via a conference call by Obama administration officials with reporters. While I obviously cannot read minds, I have to think that the release of this information was done in hopes of drawing attention away from the fact that Obama went right back to his vacation after delivering his speech condemning ISIS.
Whatever the Obama administration's motivations for releasing this information, it certainly was not a wise decision. As the Times article notes:
Two Defense Department officials, who spoke separately on the condition of anonymity because of the operation’s delicate nature, expressed anger at the administration for revealing the mission. One of the officials said the aborted raid had alerted the militants to the Americans’ desire and willingness to try to rescue the hostages, and, in the aftermath, had probably forced the captors to tighten their security.
But, the official said, the conference call on Wednesday revealed new details that ISIS is not likely to have known. “This only makes our job harder,” the official said. “I’m very disappointed this was released. We knew any second operation would be a lot harder.”
These two anonymous Defense Department officials are not the only ones who understand the kind of mistake the Obama administration has made. Retired General Jack Keane, a former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, went on Fox News to express his disapproval of the decision. The Washington Free Beacon gives us the video:
Keane makes two major points here. The first is that that the release of this information might inspire journalists to search for information that, quite frankly, should remain secret, and second, we lose the element of surprise for potential future rescue operations. Special Operations Forces typically conduct their missions in secrecy. That's part of the job description. While releasing information on the raid that killed Bin Laden is defensible on the grounds that he had been one of the main villains in the War on Terror, it is nevertheless not a good principle to establish. It's also an even worse idea to publicize failed secret operations when you're still actively at war.
Revealing the fact that we made a failed attempt to rescue Foley, along with some other American hostages, at such a time as this is a decision that can only have negative repercussions for us. In addition to the aforementioned criticisms, one has to wonder what kind of effect this will have on ISIS' morale. Even if several of their own were believed to be killed in the operation, they are almost certainly emboldened by the fact that they foiled an attempt by the mighty United States to rescue some of its citizens. The release of this information also runs the risk of exposing the resources we used to locate Foley, resources whose security is already tenuous enough.
But failure here doesn't just impact what we are doing in the Middle East. The entire world now knows not only that we failed in a military operation with some of our best soldiers but also that our intelligence failed us. People like Vladimir Putin, Hassan Rouhani, and Xi Jinping are taking note of this.
In a written statement, Scott Taylor, the president of OPSEC Team, an organization devoted to protecting and advocating for Special Operations and national security interests, sums up the debacle this disclosure creates succinctly:
“This administration has once again leaked, released, and acknowledged classified information pertaining to a SOF mission. None of these actions were either called for or necessary, but done so for political gain. These actions continue to demonstrate the reckless disregard by this administration for the SOF/intelligence community, their families, and may well endanger future operations.
They have also disclosed that former hostages were debriefed, thereby lessening the chances others will be released. It is quite apparent that this Administration is more concerned with saving face than it is with protecting the lives of our Special Operations Forces, intelligence community, and ultimately Americans held captive overseas.”
All of this was done to give our President some cover, but at what cost? This decision jeopardizes America's interests and resources in the region, risks the exposure of sensitive details at home, and it can only embolden our enemies. We will be paying the consequences for this alongside our thus far halfhearted attempts to counter ISIS militarily.