During a press conference Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey addressed the failed hostage rescue mission in Syria and defended the Intelligence behind the mission. "This operation was a flawless operation," Hagel said, "but the hostages were not there."
Hagel added that Intelligence "doesn't come wrapped in a package with a bow," but is a mosaic, in part because "the enemy always has a say in everything." Dempsey echoed Hagel, and said he believed the hostages were in the location at one point.
The press conference was held after The New York Times reported that a team of two dozen soldiers raided an oil refinery in Syria in search of hostages, but found no one to rescue. The leak concerned some who believed that it might jeopardize future operations, but when asked why the administration decided to address the leaked information about the attempted rescue, Hagel and Dempsey noted that the sources and methods behind the operation hadn't been released. "It was a decision made by the administration, which we concurred with, to address the mission," Hagel said.
Hagel also addressed concerns over mission creep. "The President has been very clear on mission creep," he said. "He's made it very clear that he will not allow that." So far there have been 89 air strikes in Iraq (and 7 humanitarian aid drops), but both officials noted that it will take cooperation with the Iraqi government, not just airstrikes, to contain ISIL. "The defeat of ISIL isn't just going to come from airstrikes," Hagel said. "Airstrikes are part of that, but it's bigger than a military operation," he said.
Still, America's goal in Iraq is to protect American citizens, Hagel said. That means that U.S. involvement in Iraq is far from over — ISIL is a long-term threat "beyond anything we've seen," as well as "an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else," he said. Dempsey added that ISIL "will only be defeated when it's rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni," in the area.