U.S. commandos killed several ISIS fighters in a gunfight during their mission to rescue James Foley and other U.S. hostages, who had been whisked away before they arrived, U.S. officials told NBC News on Thursday.
The rescue mission occurred in early July, officials said, after fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sharm, or ISIS, rampaged though the northern city of Mosul. Tens of thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqi fled, leaving the militants with an arsenal of U.S.-made weapons. U.S. military officials expected that coming U.S. airstrikes in Iraq would lead ISIS to seek revenge against at least four U.S. hostages, including Foley. President Barack Obama gave the go-ahead for a rescue mission. The hostages were in danger with each passing day in custody, the White House said.
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Several ISIS fighters — the number wasn't specified — were killed in a gunbattle with Army Delta Force commandos, who crossed into Syrian airspace and headed to a disused oil refinery north of the city of Raqqa, the ISIS stronghold, the officials said. But the hostages were gone — the commandos had just missed them, the officials said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the mission Thursday, saying the Obama administration had plenty of intelligence to justify the operation, which he called "flawless." Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed that the hostages definitely "were actually there at one point."
— Richard Engel and M. Alex Johnson