President Barack Obama announced Thursday that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al Qaeda compound in January accidentally killed two innocent hostages, including one American.
Multiple U.S. officials told CNN the hostages were killed by a U.S. military drone that targeted the al Qaeda compound.
“As president and as Commdander-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni,” Obama said Thursday morning, where he apologized on behalf of the U.S. government.
The White House also disclosed Thursday that two Americans, both al Qaeda operatives, were also killed in U.S. counterterrorism operations in the same region.
Al Qaeda leader Ahmed Farouq, who was an American citizen, was also killed in the operation that killed the two innocent hostages.
Adam Gadahn, another American in the senior ranks of al Qaeda, was also killed by U.S. forces in the region, “likely in a separate” counterterrorism operation, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in the statement.
American officials at the time had “no reason to believe either hostage was present” when the operation was launched on a compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. U.S. officials also did not know that Farouq or Gadahn were present at the targeted sites and “neither was specifically targeted,” Earnest said.
A senior administration official told CNN that U.S. intelligence had “near certainty” there were no hostages at the target site.
“Analysis of all available information has led the Intelligence Community to judge with high confidence that the operation accidentally killed both hostages,” Earnest said in a statement. “No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy.”
One of the hostages killed in the operation was Warren Weinstein, an American USAID contractor, held hostage by al Qaeda since August 2011. The other hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto, was Italian and had been held by al-Qaeda since 2012.
The information on the killings had been classified until Obama directed officials to declassify the information and share it on Thursday.
Earnest said Obama decided to release the information because he “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.”
Earnest emphasized that the counterterrorism operation that killed the hostages was “lawful and conducted consistent with our counterterrorism policies.”
Officials are conducting “a thorough independent review” of the operation to ensure this type of incident is never repeated.
“The pain of their deaths will remain with us as we rededicate ourselves to adhering to the most exacting standards in doing all we can to protect the American people,” Earnest said in the statement.