The Obama administration acknowledged Thursday that three Americans and one Italian were killed earlier this year during counterterrorism operations conducted by the U.S. government in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest released a statement Thursday morning saying the government has determined that one of the Americans killed in the January operation was an “innocent hostage” while the other two — while citizens of the United States — were “al-Qa’ida members.” An “innocent” Italian national was also killed in the operation, Earnest said.
“The President directed that the information being shared today, which was properly classified until now, be declassified and shared with the American people,” Earnest said. “He takes full responsibility for these operations and believes it is important to provide the American people with as much information as possible about our counterterrorism operations, particularly when they take the lives of fellow citizens.”
Added Earnest: “The uniquely tragic nature of the operation that resulted in the deaths of two innocent hostages is something we will do our utmost to ensure is not repeated. To this end, although the operation was lawful and conducted consistent with our counterterrorism policies, we are conducting a thorough independent review to understand fully what happened and how we can prevent this type of tragic incident in the future.”
Earnest named the two hostages as American Warren Weinstein, held by al-Qa’ida since 2011, and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, held hostage since 2012.
“The operation targeted an al-Qa’ida-associated compound, where we had no reason to believe either hostage was present, located in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Earnest said. “No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy.”
Earnest also said the two Americans believed to be members of al-Qa’ida – Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn – were killed in separate counterterrorism operations. Farouq, he said, was killed in the same operation that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto. Gadahn, meanwhile, was killed in another operation.
“While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qa’ida members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations,” he said.
After the White House released its statement, Obama appeared in the White House briefing room Thursday morning to make a short statement about the deaths of the two hostages, who he said were “tragically killed in a U.S. counter-terrorism operation.”
“Today I simply want to say this: as president, and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counter-terrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni,” Obama said. “I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”
“Warren and Giovanni were aid workers in Pakistan devoted to improving the lives of the Pakistani people,” Obama said. “After Warren was abducted by al-Qa’ida in 2011, I directed my national security team to do everything possible to find him and to bring him home safely to his family. And dedicated professionals across our government worked tirelessly to do so.”
Obama said he has spoken to Warren’s wife, Elaine, and to the prime minister of Italy.
“As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and the LaPorto families are enduring today,” the president said.