SEAL Team Six launched a mission in August to rescue two western hostages, including one American, who were captured by the Taliban and were believed to be in eastern Afghanistan.
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But, according to U.S. officials, the hostages were not found at the targeted compound. The intelligence that triggered the rescue mission was "incomplete," said one official, explaining why they were not found where they were thought to be.
The two hostages, an American and an Australian working as professors at the American University in Afghanistan, were kidnapped on August 7 by the Taliban.
"In August, at the recommendation of Secretary Carter, President Obama authorized U.S. forces to conduct a mission in Afghanistan, aimed at recovering two civilian hostages," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the hostages were not at the location we suspected.
Cook said that during the mission, "U.S. forces engaged and killed a number of hostile forces," but no U.S. personnel or civilians were harmed.
"We will not provide further information on this mission in order to protect the safety of hostages and operational security," Cook said. "Military hostage rescue operations are inherently sensitive and dangerous and careful deliberation went into this mission. The United States military remains fully prepared to take extraordinary steps to protect American citizens anywhere in the world."
A U.S. official said that the rescue operation was conducted by SEAL Team Six, the elite special operations unit. The official said that the SEALs had carried out a HALO (High Altitude Low Open) parachute jump to get to the target area. HALO parachute jumps usually take place at altitudes as high as 30,000 feet and are conducted to maximize the element of surprise in a hard to reach environment.
One U.S. official said there had been an earlier opportunity to conduct the rescue mission at the same location the night before.
However, the official said there were "varying degrees of confidence" within the U.S. intelligence community about information that the hostages were located at the compound.
Because of that lack of agreement within the community, they did not send an earlier request for approval to proceed with the rescue mission to President Obama.
Once the differences had been resolved, the request was sent and President Obama signed off on the rescue mission that was conducted the following night.