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Special Report

All-Star Panel: US conducted failed rescue mission in Syria this summer

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 20, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR:  More details on that Fox News alert. We are just learning that President Obama authorized and the U.S. military conducted an attempted rescue mission earlier this summer to try to free some of those hostages being held by ISIS, those hostages including James Foley who was so brutally murdered yesterday. 

We just got a statement from the president's top assistant on counterterrorism issues, and let me read it to you.  What it reads is, this is a statement by Lisa Monaco, the assistant to the president, and she says "As the Department of Defense has now announced earlier this summer, the president authorized an operation to attempt the rescue of American citizens who were kidnapped and held by ISIL against their will in Syria.

The president authorized action at this time because it was the national security team's assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in ISIL custody.  The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens.  Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present." 

And that is the point that they were on the ground for some time in Syria. They thought that the hostages were being held in a specific location. 

They got to the location without being detected by outside forces, but the hostages were not there, and so they left apparently safely.  This is new news, breaking just now, as you're watching. 

Let me introduce the panel, Chuck Lane of The Washington Post.  Nina, how are you?  Nina Easton, boy, talk about a senior moment, from Fortune magazine, and Charles Krauthammer, who I could never forget, syndicated columnist. Chuck, your reaction to this?  This is, as I say, kind of stunning new news. 

CHARLES LANE, OPINION WRITER, WASHINGTON POST:  It is very stunning, and one would like to know more about the precise timing of it and what the strategic thinking was behind it, and, you know, how it fits into what's all happened later. I mean, obviously, it's U.S. interests now in hindsight to have had these hostages out of there because they're being threatened now in the case that we do more air strikes.  They have already threatened that the other hostage will be killed if the United States continues air strikes.  If there were no hostages in their hands, we would have a freer -- we would have more latitude in dealing with ISIS from the air. 

WALLACE:  I think it's fair to say, Nina, that it's no coincidence that the administration is releasing this information now that they have already moved against Foley, and in one sense, I suspect, because they have nothing to lose. It's not like they're going to further antagonize ISIS.  And also, I suppose in a political sense, it helps show we were doing everything we could to get these guys out of there. 

NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, FORTUNE MAGAZINE:  Yeah, and it will be interesting to see if they try to do a further mission to rescue other Americans held.  That's unlikely now that they have broadcast they have already tried this if they're going to succeed. 

It seems like this president is trying to limit the mission and he is trying to limit the impact.  So he talks about wanting to protect our people, presumably our people over there.  Contrast that with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain who said ISIS is a direct and deadly threat to Britain.  And I find that this president continues to try to limit the mission when, in fact, ISIS in the tradition of, you know, seeing Daniel Pearl being decapitated, seeing the Fallujah four contractors hung. It's the same awful jihadist evil, and yet ISIS also controlled territory. 

It controls oil fields and a dam.  And this is a great danger to the United States.  It isn't something that can be localized. 

WALLACE:  I want to -- we're going to talk a little more about the mission. We're going to do two panels on this because this is breaking news.  But I want to go back to the idea of the secret mission, because it is surprising and, on the one hand, it shows how determined the president is to try to save these Americans.  On the other hand, obviously, it failed. 

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  But as you say, it's intended to show how much the president cares.  This is a political reaction to a horrific event.  The administration is trying to say we're not just standing by and watching.  So you can understand that politically, but it is the usual instinct of this administration to think first of the politics. 

The other way you could interpret is to say it is a message to the bad guys that we tried but didn't succeed, but we're coming after you.  We have the special forces, we needed better intel.  On the other hand, you would think if there was a mission, it did not succeed, they were on the ground in Syria, the bad guys would have known about this.  It's hard to sort of tip toe in and tip toe out without anybody knowing.  So I'm not sure it would have any effect. 

The major response and the proper response, the one ISIS would worry about the most, is not a rescue mission.  It's the continuation of the airstrikes.  So it's encouraging that we redoubled the air strikes today with 15 strikes. We were instrumental in the recapture of the dam.  The question is, will Obama allow the mission to be defined as a general containment and quelling of ISIS, or will he keep it at least rhetorically protecting the embassy in Baghdad, protecting Americans in Erbil, and protecting the Yazidis and the Christians from genocide?  Obviously our mission here is larger.  The president won't say it.  The air force is supporting the troops on the ground.  That is succeeding.  Will he continue it and sustain it over time?  That's the real question.  And that's what ISIS is worried about. 

WALLACE:  Well, that is what we're going to get to in the next panel.  We didn't know we were going to be talking about this, this secret rescue mission that unfortunately failed.  But we'll have more with the panel on this breaking story after a short time-out. 

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