Intelligence Gaps Crippled Mission in Syria to Rescue Hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff

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from The Wall Street Journal,

U.S. Raid on Oil-Storage Facility Was Too Late to Save Hostages Held by Islamic State.

On a moonless night in early July, several dozen Army Delta Force commandos touched down at an oil-storage facility in eastern Syria.

The plan: Neutralize the terrorist guards, search a makeshift prison, find American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and other hostages, and fly off to safety. It was all supposed to take 20 minutes.

More than an hour later, the Army team was headed back to its launchpad outside Syria empty-handed.

“It was a dry hole,” a senior U.S. military official said, using jargon for a mission whose target couldn’t be found.

One model for the operation was the 2011 mission that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, down to choosing the darkest of nights to cloak the raiders. But this raid, the first known U.S. incursion into Syria since its civil war erupted, was in many ways a far bigger gamble, according to current and former U.S. defense and government officials.

The U.S. had limited visibility into Syria, including the suspected prison site just miles from the main operations base of Islamic State, the militant group once known as ISIS that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq. Weeks before the raid, the Pentagon drafted a plan for surveillance flights in Syria but dropped the idea after concluding the White House wouldn’t approve them, U.S. officials said.

They went too late. The U.S. now believes the militants moved the hostages away as little as 72 hours earlier.

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