Barack Obama has been adamant about keeping American boots off the ground in Iraq and other locations in the Middle East, preferring the anonymity of aerial strikes by drones. Yes, he acknowledges in his more candid moments, this policy occasionally leads to “collateral damage,” but it keeps American lives out of harm’s way.
Well, most of the time. According to reports, two al Qaeda hostages, one an American named Warren Weinstein, were accidentally killed in a drone strike on an al Qaeda position on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The second hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto, was an Italian aid worker. The two men were kidnapped by the terrorist group in 2011 and 2012 respectively. A third individual killed in the operation was Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al Qaeda leader.
It appears that U.S. officials were unaware of the hostages’ presence at the location when the strike was ordered.
Obama announced the deaths a short time ago during an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room. “We believed that this was an al Qaeda compound,” he said in his brief remarks, adding that the best intelligence indicated “that no civilians were present, and that capturing these terrorist was not possible.” He took responsibility for the operation, expressed his profound regret, and said a probe would be conducted in an effort to avoid such mistakes in the future.
The president left the podium without taking questions. One question that needs to be answered going forward is how al Qaeda remains a target of U.S. drone strikes a year after the president declared the organization decimated and “on the run.”
LU’s Jeff Dunetz personally knew Warren Weinstein, who was his freshman adviser in college, and writes about the man’s influence on him at his blog The Lid.