An Army helicopter pilot kept flying for five hours in support of
a Delta Force ground raid into Syria in 2014, even after he was
wounded by gunfire during the initial assault, according to new
documents released by the Pentagon.
Then-Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Siler piloted one of two
MH-60L Direct Action
Penetrator helicopters (DAPS) on a “mission deep inside
enemy territory” during a classified nighttime mission in
Siler was the lead pilot during the 10-hour-long raid, which he
“meticulously planned and flawlessly executed.”
The new details emerged from the award citation for his Silver
Star, which Siler received later that month in addition to the
Purple Heart for combat wounds. It was recently released in
response to a Freedom of Information Request from Business
Going into Syria with ‘zero illumination’
After receiving the go-ahead from President Barack Obama,
the Army’s elite Delta Force loaded into helicopters piloted
by the 160th Special
Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) during the late and
early morning hours of July 2 and 3, 2014 to find and
rescue journalist James Foley and other hostages taken by
The raid into northern Syria happened in pitch black “zero
illumination” — perfect conditions for pilots attempting to
stealthily insert troops, both of whom were outfitted with
sophisticated night vision goggles. Still, the citation notes the
flight encountered “harsh environmental conditions” without
getting into specifics.
In what was described by
officials speaking to The New York Times as a “complicated
operation,” several helicopters dropped off two dozen Delta
operators at an oil refinery outside Raqqa, while heavily-armed
DAPS helicopters circled overhead to provide air support.
Siler was shot in his right leg by ground fire during the initial
assault, according to his citation and other media reports. He was on
crutches and wore a walking cast at his award ceremony.
“Staying in the air with a wounded leg for five hours is no small
feat, whether or not he’s on the controls,” another Army
Blackhawk helicopter pilot told Business Insider. “That is pretty
According to the pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity since
they were not authorized to speak, a gunshot wound to the leg
would make it very difficult for Siler to manipulate his foot
pedals, which control the yaw of the aircraft. That’s not to
mention “the loss of blood and the shattered leg,” the pilot
said. “The sheer pain of that.”
The pilot speculated that the copilot likely took control of
the aircraft at that point, while Siler tended to his
wounds, helped direct fire, and navigated.
Meanwhile, as drones and fixed-wing aircraft
flew overhead, the team of soldiers on the ground moved
quickly into the safe house where James Foley, Steven
Sotloff, and other hostages were believed to be held. But the
operators found only ISIS fighters, two of which were quickly
dispatched in a gunfight, according to The
“By the time we got there, it was too late,” a Pentagon official
told The New York
Times in 2014.
We moved ‘aggressively to recover our citizens’
Although the raid did not result in the rescue of Americans
from ISIS captivity, it was notable in that it was the first time
the government acknowledged US troops had operated inside Syria
since the war began in 2012, The Times reported.
“The US government had what we believed was sufficient
intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the
president authorized the Department of Defense to move
aggressively to recover our citizens,” Lisa Monaco, Obama’s
counterterrorism adviser, told The Times.
After the area was secure, the Delta operators gathered up
anything that could yield intelligence or forensic value,
according to The New Yorker. After about an hour, they departed
on Black Hawks back to an unspecified “neighboring
The secret mission was made
public more than a month later on Aug. 20, 2014,
a day after ISIS posted a video showing the beheading of
Foley by a masked man later identified as Mohammed Emwazi. The
British-born ISIS militant carried out the executions of many
American, British, and other hostages throughout 2014 and 2015
until he was killed by a coalition drone strike in Nov. 2015.
Siler, now a Chief Warrant Officer-5, still
serves with the 160th at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, according
to an Army spokesman. He was recognized as the
Army Aviator of the Year in 2014.
View his award below: