Despite how The New York Times would describe it, President Barack Obama did not sound particularly "emotional," nor did he appear more "grim-faced" than usual when he announced today that a U.S. drone strike on an al Qaeda compound in Pakistan accidentally killed an American and an Italian hostage. American intelligence apparently failed to discover the hostages before the drone strike was called. From the Associated Press:
"Based on the intelligence that we had obtained at the time, including hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed this was an al Qaeda compound, that no civilians were present, and that capturing these terrorists was not possible," Obama said.
"We do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al Qaeda. What we did not know, tragically, was that al Qaeda was hiding the presence of Warren [Weinstein] and Giovanni [Lo Porto] in this same compound. It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally – and our fight against terrorist specifically – mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur."
Obama said that as commander in chief, he takes "full responsibility" for their deaths and expressed regret for what happened. This should not be taken to mean that President Barack Obama will personally face any consequences for these deaths, obviously. No doubt their families will be paid handsomely by the federal government for their losses. In fact, the president also said that the operation was fully "lawful," though he will call for a full review so that such accidents don't happen in the future.
Here's Obama's full statement:
These "accidents" happen all the time. It's just normally not Americans who are killed. Obama ordered the declassification of information about this strike in order to be transparent about what happened to the American public. The same cannot be said for the hundreds of non-American civilians killed in other drone strikes in Pakistan. The United States has killed an estimated 168 children in Pakistan from drone strikes. And many of the people who have been killed have not even been properly identified.
And by the way, two other Americans were also killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, but they're being treated separately because the administration has determined they were not innocent hostages. Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn were Americans who joined up with al Qaeda. Farouq was killed in the same strike that killed Weinstein. Gadahn was killed in a different strike. According to The New York Times, they weren't specific targets, and intelligence also didn't indicate that the two men were at the locations of these two strikes.
Below, here's our infographic put together by Jason Keisling and Stephanie Slade in March to illustrate that drone deaths like Weinstein's and Lo Porto's are not uncommon. They're just typically not westerners. Click the graphic for a bigger image: