ABC NEWS -- U.S. special operations forces early this summer launched a secret, major rescue operation in Syria to save James Foley and a number of Americans held by the extremist group ISIS, but the mission failed because the hostages weren't there, senior administration officials told ABC News Wednesday.
President Obama authorized the "substantial and complex" rescue operation after the officials said a "broad collection of intelligence" led the U.S. to believe the hostages were being held in a specific location in the embattled Middle Eastern nation.
When "several dozen" U.S. special operation members landed in Syria, however, they were met with gunfire and "while on site, it became apparent the hostages were not there," one of the officials said. The special operators engaged in a firefight in which ISIS suffered "a good number" casualties, the official said, while the American forces suffered only a single minor injury.
The American forces were able to get back on helicopters and escape.
"Intelligence is not a perfect science," the senior official said. As to how the intelligence failed and why the hostages were not there, the official said, "The truth is, we don't know. And that's the truth. When we got there, they weren't there. We don't know why that is."
Much about the daring mission itself remains a secret -- officials said they did not want to reveal too much about the rescue attempt for fear of spoiling future efforts.
"It was conducted, but was not ultimately successful," a senior U.S. official told ABC News.
The operation was what senior government officials described as a major undertaking -- involving special operations forces from multiple branches of the military, helicopters, fixed-wing airplanes, and surveillance aircraft.
A video showing the brutal murder of James Foley apparently at the hands of an ISIS fighter appeared online Tuesday.