Friday, August 22, 2014

Fascinating Account of Likely US Raid That Failed to Rescue US Prisoners

Raid on Syria Isis camp may have been US rescue attempt

By Erika Solomon in Erbil

Long before the US acknowledged that its special forces tried and failed to free American hostages in Syria, among them the recently murdered James Foley, Syrian activists in the city of Raqqa were avidly discussing a mysterious night-time raid.

In conversations with the Financial Times last month, they recounted how on the night of July 3 a jet circled continuously over their homes without dropping a single bomb. The lights in the entire city went out, and every fighter was on high alert.

“It started somewhere around midnight or 1am,” said one activist, who asked not to be identified. “As for the helicopters, the fighters barely heard them coming, they were so quiet.”

While many could describe what had happened that night, and guessed that US forces were involved, few understood the reason for the raid. The US announcement of the failed attempt to rescue Mr Foley may explain the mystery.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) had occupied Raqqa for two years but had recently stretched its hold across a third of both Syria and Iraq. The following morning many of its fighters believed they had just experienced their first western attack.

The incident came just before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Isis’s “caliph” gave his first public speech just across the border in Iraq.

Independent activists, who cannot be fully identified for their safety, said local Isis leaders imposed a blackout on rumours of what they suspected was a US attack. But the close ties they had developed with many local fighters meant the news quickly spread.

The raid targeted the Akershi base outside the city, which only a few local activists knew was being used as more than a military facility.

“Very few people knew there was a prison in the Akershi base. Most people thought it was just a training base. It’s not,” one activist, known as Abdelqader, told the Financial Times in an interview at the time. “There’s a secret prison. No one knows who is inside except some of the [Islamic] State’s emirs [commanders].”

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