The last American hostage still in the hands of the Islamic State is named Austin Tice. He is a freelance journalist who disappeared in Syria in 2012. After the death of Kayla Mueller, the White House itself revealed that the reporter might be a prisoner of the caliphate army.
No Plan B for Kayla
The American government reassured the Tice family that everything will be done to rescue him. OK, but what will be done? Barack Obama was very clear: The U.S. will not pay ransom for the hostages captured by the Islamists and doesn’t exchange prisoners. They try to free them through military blitz, but so far, each attempt has failed.
So, beyond Obama’s rhetoric, it’s becoming clear that the American government is not planning to deviate from the firm line they have followed so far; a line that doesn’t bend in front of the Islamic State group diktat but has a high price: the life of the hostages — if they ever had the intention of releasing them.
After Mueller’s death, some details emerged that made us understand how the fate of an American is, unfortunately, sealed when captured by the Islamic State group. Last July, U.S. Special Forces had attempted to save the young humanitarian worker, but it turned out that the Islamic State group had moved her somewhere else.
No Exchange of Prisoners
From July up until to her death — from the bombs of a Jordanian air strike on Raqqa, according to the Islamic State group version, or killed by Islamist militants in order to blame the international coalition, according to American sources — the U.S. didn’t do anything to bring Kayla back home.
The Pentagon denied that there was any plan to rescue her. After the blitz, Mueller simply vanished into thin air. No one in Washington knew where she was.
The negotiations to exchange prisoners — the Islamic State group had demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist accused of terrorism and condemned to 86 years of jail in the U.S. — were not led very convincingly by the Americans, and after the botched rescue attempt they were abandoned.
The Mueller family had written to Obama, asking him to proceed with the exchange of prisoners, but the White House answered that it was not possible.
Families Left Alone
The Muellers felt left alone, abandoned. The same sensation was also felt by the other hostages’ families. The last to make an appearance was Tice’s family. In a press release, the reporter’s relatives touched a nerve. The U.S. government agencies in charge of these kinds of cases don’t share information with one another nor with the families.
The FBI, the Department of State, the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House don’t communicate among themselves. Their work is compartmentalized, and causes only problems (and failures) and no success.
What is most noticeable is that the investigations into the abductions made by the Islamic State group are coordinated by the FBI. The federal police seem to be the last entity able to rescue anyone from jail in Syria, Iraq or Yemen, but for the time being it is the Bureau who is in charge.
American politician Duncan Hunter asked that such coordination be removed from the FBI and transferred to another intelligence agency. He commented with heavy irony: “Well, if the FBI wants to drop one of its investigations and send at least 2,000 agents to the Middle East, maybe in 20 years they will finally solve the hostage conundrum.”*
These claims can be part of the political struggle in Washington, but they also make us understand that the bureaucratic solutions adopted so far to confront the hostage crisis are inefficient.
But beyond the bureaucracy, there is the firm stance decided by Obama. For the Islamic State group hostages, there is no ransom to be paid and no prisoner to be exchanged. If the military raids to rescue them fail, there is no plan B to bring them back home.
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.