WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of US policy on “overseas terrorist-related” hostage cases, a letter from the Pentagon has revealed.
The missive surfaced just one day after the Islamic State group posted the beheading of yet another Western hostage, US aid worker Peter Kassig, in a grisly online video. In the letter, dated last Tuesday, the US undersecretary of defence for policy says the review will focus “on examining family engagement, intelligence collection and diplomatic engagement policies.”
“The president recently directed a comprehensive review of the US government policy on overseas terrorist-related hostage cases,” Christine Wormuth said in the text posted on US news site The Daily Beast Monday (Nov 17). The letter was written to Republican Representative Duncan Hunter, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, following an apparent request for action by the White House.
The move, Wormuth said, comes “as a result of the increased frequency of hostage-taking of Americans overseas, and the recognition of the dynamic threat posed by specific terrorist groups.”
Kassig, who took the name Abdul Rahman after converting to Islam, was captured last year and became the fifth Western hostage beheaded by IS after American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
Foley’s mother, Diane, and father, John, defied government advice and began raising funds for a ransom but were told by US officials that they would be forbidden by law from paying. Sotloff’s family as well said they were told by a White House counterterrorism official that they could face prosecution.
US officials insist Washington’s opposition to the practice has made groups like Al-Qaeda or IS less keen to take Americans hostage.
But the policy has left the United States at odds with European allies, several of which are believed to have secretly paid millions of dollars to save their nationals, including some held by the Islamic State group.
“The Department of Defence, as directed by the president and the secretary of defence, will continue to leverage all feasible means to secure the release of US persons held abroad,” Wormuth wrote.
The Pentagon revealed in August that US special forces were sent into Syria earlier this year to try to rescue American hostages but they came up empty-handed as the captives were not at the targeted location.
“This review will seek to integrate innovative and non-traditional solutions to result in recommended actions to improve interagency coordination and strengthen the whole-of-government approach led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department,” Wormuth wrote.
The move comes as Washington prepares to double its military personnel in Iraq to up to 3,100 as part of the international campaign it heads against IS.