WASHINGTON — Past year, administration officers briefed President Trump on a hostage whose case he has taken an curiosity in: Austin Tice, a former Marine missing in Syria. The C.I.A. pledged to ramp up initiatives to master in which he is getting held and why Syria refuses to negotiate his release.
The C.I.A.’s renewed concentrate on Mr. Tice, who was doing the job as a journalist when he was captured in 2012, displays a broader push by the Trump administration to focus additional intently on Americans being held hostage abroad.
The administration has served absolutely free People in america held in Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan and is seeking to earn Mr. Tice’s flexibility as properly as working to find Mark R. Frerichs, a previous Navy diver kidnapped very last thirty day period in Afghanistan. The White Home needs him freed just before American troops leave the state in a peace deal with the Taliban, an urgent deadline for the Pentagon and intelligence agencies to track down Mr. Frerichs.
Returning American hostages is Mr. Trump’s “top precedence,” Secretary of Point out Mike Pompeo reported this week in a assertion marking the 13th anniversary of the disappearance within Iran of Robert A. Levinson, a previous F.B.I. agent and C.I.A. contractor.
For the American armed service, the C.I.A. and other intelligence organizations, concentrating much more on hostages is a way to demonstrate an frequently mercurial commander in chief that the authorities is responding to the priorities he has established. The appointment of the former leading envoy for hostage negotiations, Robert C. O’Brien, as nationwide stability adviser has also elevated the problem, and the National Counterterrorism Middle is leading a evaluation of hostage recovery endeavours.
Mr. Trump’s curiosity in seeing American hostages brought residence is a reflection of his us-compared to-them worldview that generally puts international policy issues in stark phrases, a senior administration formal mentioned, including that the president can take it individually when adversaries illegally detain Us residents.
Mr. Trump invited to the Point out of the Union the parents of Kayla Mueller, who was taken captive in August 2013 right before being killed by the Islamic State in early 2015. The navy mission final calendar year to kill the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was named following Ms. Mueller’s birthday.
“America’s warriors never forgot Kayla — and neither will we,” Mr. Trump said all through the deal with last thirty day period.
Prior to the speech, Ms. Mueller’s mothers and fathers ended up presented a tour of the White House and satisfied briefly with Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. They also spoke with the two Mr. O’Brien and Kashyap Patel, then a senior counterterrorism official who was handling hostage problems.
While he was the hostage czar, Mr. O’Brien pushed tricky to figure out a way to no cost Mr. Tice. He cited the scenario to Ms. Mueller’s parents when they visited the White Residence as one particular of various the administration was hoping to resolve.
Primarily based on a mosaic of intelligence, officers believe that Mr. Tice, now 38, remains alive and is staying held by the Syrian government, according to previous and current officials. Issues continue being about why the Syrian government has neither admitted to holding him in the just about 8 years due to the fact he was abducted nor negotiated his release, and why it has produced other Us residents who were captured soon after him.
The Trump administration has pushed unsuccessfully to acquire Mr. Tice’s launch. Early in his 15-thirty day period tenure as C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo attempted to established up back again-channel talks with Ali Mamlouk, Syria’s highly effective intelligence chief who is shut with President Bashar al-Assad. The energy fizzled but also prompted concerns amid some administration officials that the C.I.A.’s outreach may possibly have remaining the mistaken effect with the Syrians that Mr. Tice was a spy.
In August 2018, the C.I.A. dispatched one more leading senior agency formal with experience in the Middle East to meet with Mr. Mamlouk in Damascus, previous American officers stated. For the duration of the assembly, the C.I.A. official introduced up Mr. Tice, the previous officials claimed. What arrived of the assembly is not distinct.
The administration has also experimented with devoid of achievement to engage the two the United Arab Emirates and the Vatican to help with the Tice case. The Emiratis, who played a key position in 2019 in liberating Danny Burch, an American oil employee who experienced been held hostage in Yemen, reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018.
As the hostage czar, Mr. O’Brien embraced the plan of traveling to Damascus to negotiate with the Syrian federal government. Mr. Pompeo, now the secretary of state, nixed the proposal for security causes, however some administration officers have been skeptical that Mr. O’Brien’s existence would have been in risk. Other administration officers considered these types of a journey as a slip-up for the reason that a take a look at by a higher-rating American formal could bolster the Assad government whilst probably executing little to prompt it to launch Mr. Tice.
Mr. Tice’s family members has sought to maintain general public attention on his circumstance to tension the authorities to go on doing work for his launch. Debra Tice, Mr. Tice’s mom, has held news conferences and granted interviews in which she praised Mr. Trump’s focus on the circumstance of her son and other hostages.
She not too long ago explained to the Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the Syrian govt experienced invited an American formal to speak about her son’s situation but accused “neocons at the Point out Department” of intervening to cease the excursion. It was unclear whether she was referring to Mr. Pompeo. Ms. Tice declined via a spokesman to remark.
Critics have accused the Trump administration of missing chances to earn Mr. Tice’s release. It has manufactured concessions to the Assad governing administration without demanding Mr. Tice’s launch or nearly anything else in return, which includes when administration officers announced in 2017 that they would no for a longer time pursue Mr. Assad’s ouster, and yet again very last year when Mr. Trump abruptly pulled again American forces combating the Islamic State, effectively supplying up substantially of the land in Syria that the army experienced seized from the group back to Mr. Assad’s authorities.
Mr. Frerichs’s case is similarly caught up in fragile geopolitical negotiations. As the armed forces begins to withdraw its staff from Afghanistan as component of a deal with the Taliban, the White House has stepped up its strain on the Defense Section to get residence hostages still held there, according to a senior official.
Mr. Frerichs, the former Navy diver who was working as a contractor in Afghanistan, was captured in February, and officials believe he is being held by the Haqqani militant network in Afghanistan. Some officers expressed issue that if Mr. Frerichs is not identified immediately, he could be smuggled into Pakistan, earning a rescue by American commandos additional difficult simply because of the political sensitivities and most likely treacherous terrain.