President Obama in a press conference Thursday morning took “full responsibility” for the American counter-terrorism operation that left a U.S. aid worker and an Italian man killed by a drone strike in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Warren Weinstein, a 73-year-old U.S. aid worker, and Giovanni Lo Porot, an Italian who traveled to Pakistan to do humanitarian work, had been held hostage by al-Qaida since 2011 and 2012, respectively. U.S. authorities acting on intelligence conducted a drone strike against al-Qaida members at a compound in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Unknown to the White House, the two were held at the compound the drones targeted and struck. The hostages were actually killed by the CIA-initiated drones in separate attacks on Jan. 14 and Jan. 19, but the news was just coming to light now, NBC News reported. The White House hasn’t clarified why the information didn’t come to light until now. But the shocking news comes the same day former CIA director and retired Gen. David Petraeus is set to be sentenced for sharing classified information with his mistress.
Under the terms of the plea bargain, Petraeus won’t have to go to jail, but rather pay $40,000 in fines and serve two years on probation, various media reported. Part of the at-issue classified information were eight so-called “black books,” NPR reported. Those were notebooks the government says included “the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant David Howell Petraeus’s discussions with the president of the United States, NPR reported.
And now comes the admission of a U.S. death due to an American intelligence mistake, and American drone strike.
Responding to the revelation on national television, Obama called the two deceased “great men” and expressed grief. He also claimed full responsibility for the strikes and vowed to vet what went wrong.
“As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counter-terrorism operations,” he said. “I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the U.S. government, I offer our deepest apologies” to the families of the killed.
Obama said he’s also order the release of all pertinent documents and reports as soon as they’re declassified, in the spirit of openness and transparency. He added “initial assessments” show the operation was conducted in line with proper policy, though, and mentioned “the operation did take out dangerous members” of al-Qaida.
The two were killed in the Hindu Kush area of eastern Afghanistan.
A third American, Adam Gadahn, 36, who turned into a propagandist for al-Qaida, was also killed in the strike. The U.S. State Department had offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture.
Elaine Weinstein, the wife of Warren, put out a statement Thursday saying she and her family were “devastated” by the news.
“We were so hopeful that those in the U.S. and Pakistani governments with the power to take action and secure his release would have done everything possible to do so and there are no words to do justice to the disappointement and heartbreak we are going through,” she said, CNN reported. “We do not yet fully understand all the facts surrounding Warren’s death, but we do understand that the U.S. government will be conducting an independent investigation of the circumstances.”