WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday assumed “full responsibility” for a pair of U.S. drone strikes along the Afghan-Pakistani border that resulted in the deaths of two men held hostage by al-Qaeda.
A solemn-faced Obama delivered a statement to reporters at the White House hours after his administration disclosed the deaths of U.S. citizen Warren Weinstein and Italian national Giovanni Lo Porto.
“As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni,” the president said.
Weinstein was abducted from his home in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2011, while wrapping up a seven-year mission in the country on behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Lo Porto, an aid worker in Pakistan, was grabbed by al-Qaeda in 2012.
The hostages died in drone strikes that were carried out on Jan. 14 and Jan. 19 against what the White House described as “an al-Qaeda-associated compound, where we had no reason to believe either hostage was present.”
“I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families,” Obama said.
He stressed that the operation leading to the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto was “fully consistent” with existing guidelines for U.S. counterterrorism activity in the region.
“One of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes,” Obama said. “We will do our utmost to ensure it is not repeated and we will continue to do everything we can to prevent the loss of innocent lives, not just innocent Americans, but all innocent lives in our counterterrorism operations.”
In the earlier statement, White House press secretary said that officials believe two other U.S. citizens linked with al-Qaeda were also killed in January.