American journalist James Foley in Boston in 2011. Photo: AP
Erbil, Iraq: A secret, failed mission by the United States military to rescue American hostages, including the murdered journalist James Foley, has been described in full by an eyewitness on the ground.
Two dozen Delta Force commandos landed in Syria in the early hours of July 4 - US Independence Day - but failed to find the hostages and were forced to retreat after a gun battle with Islamic State kidnappers.
Abu Ibrahim, a resident of Raqqa, the eastern Syrian city that has become the "capital" of the jihadists' self-declared caliphate, posted an account of the raid on Facebook.
President Barack Obama speaks about the killing of American journalist James Foley. Photo: AP
Abu Ibrahim, who uses a pseudonym for fear of being targeted by Islamic State (also known as ISIL), said most of the account was quickly removed by Facebook's administrators.
The mission targeted an IS stronghold in Ukayrishi, 18 kilometres south-east of Raqqa, with tactics similar to those used by US Navy Seals in the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Just after midnight, planes bombed what is believed to be one of IS's three main headquarters in Syria, a military base named the "Osama bin Laden Camp" by the jihadists.
James Foley's parents, John and Diane Foley, address the media after the death of their son. Photo: AP
At the same time, two dozen US special forces landed near a building used by IS to hold "high value" prisoners. It is believed that the makeshift jail was on the grounds of an oil refinery in the area. The commandos parachuted from Black Hawk helicopters, which had been "specially modified", officials in the United States have said.
"The commandos dropped from helicopters, which were silent: you couldn't hear their engines or their rotor blades," Abu Ibrahim said.
He reported the account of a friend - a farmer living in Ukayrishi - who said he came face to face with the commandos. Abu Ibrahim's account cannot be independently verified, although much of the information he provided correlates with that confirmed in a Pentagon statement on Wednesday.
Washington said an American soldier was wounded in the operation and that "several" IS members died.
Abu Ibrahim's Facebook post said that five IS fighters were killed, and that two US commandos were wounded.
Once on the ground, the Delta Force operatives apparently blockaded the main road to Raqqa and started to move in on the prison.
They reportedly fought their way to the cells where they thought the hostages were being held, but found no one.
The troops also conducted "house to house" searches of Ukayrishi, Abu Ibrahim said, including in the home of the eyewitness.
Abu Ibrahim reports that the US commandos were assisted by "Jordanian special forces" who were identified by the national flag on their uniforms.
As they were sweeping the houses, IS "sent back-up troops from Raqqa" and a three-hour battle ensued. "After that, my friend saw that two of the commandos had been shot; one Jordanian and one American," Abu Ibrahim said.
After that, at about 3am, helicopters took the special forces away.
The prison that the US targeted was an area rumoured among residents of Ukayrishi to be the place where IS kept their "most high-value prisoners".
As well as American and British hostages, local residents believed that the 49 Turkish people who were kidnapped from Mosul in Iraq when IS seized the city in June were also briefly held there.
However, Abu Ibrahim said that a contact inside IS had told him that the prisoners had been moved "24 hours before the raid happened".
The attack on the Osama bin Laden Camp caused extensive damage, he said.
Islamic State had previously boasted about the camp, posting online pictures of its buildings with a banner proudly displaying the name over the door. "The camp used to be very active," said Abu Ibrahim. "After that, it and the prison were closed for one week. They lay silent and there was no movement there."