On Thursday morning, the White House announced that two al Qaeda hostages in Pakistan were accidentally killed in January by an American drone carrying out a counterterrorism operation. The acknowledgement was a direct confrontation of a lapse in the administration's efforts in fighting terrorism abroad that killed the two hostages, American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto. But considering the strikes occurred months ago, when did Weinstein's family find out he died?
At a press conference on Thursday, President Obama said officials involved in the operation did not know that the hostages were in the targeted al Qaeda compound. He said he had ordered a full review into the incident, but also indicated that the administration only recently confirmed the cause of the hostages' death.
As soon as we determined the cause of their deaths, I directed that the existence of this operation be declassified and disclosed publicly. I did so because the Weinstein and Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth. And I did so because even as certain aspects of our national security efforts have to remain secret in order to succeed, the United States is a democracy committed to openness in good times and in bad.
Obama also said that he had spoken to Weinstein's wife, Elaine, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Wednesday, which the Associated Press confirmed it was then that the Weinstein family was informed. It's likely that the administration took months to determine if Weinstein and Lo Porto died and whether it was because of the January strikes.
Following the White House's statement, the Weinstein family released one of their own. It read:
On behalf of myself, our two daughters, our son-in-law, and two grandchildren, we are devastated by this news and the knowledge that my husband will never safely return home. ... We do not yet fully understand all of the facts surrounding Warren’s death but we do understand that the U.S. government will be conducting an independent investigation of the circumstances. We look forward to the results of that investigation.
At the time of writing, the family of Lo Porto had not released a statement to the press. After the White House made public their deaths, Prime Minister Renzi expressed his country's "deepest sorrow" for the death of Lo Porto, who, like Weinstein, was also a humanitarian aid worker in Pakistan.
Obama said on Thursday that the January operation was "fully consistent" with counterterrorism guidelines, though conceded that "in the fog of war... sometimes deadly mistakes can occur." The Weinstein family, though ultimately faulting al Qaeda for their patriarch's death, called out the federal government, as well as Pakistani's government and military for not doing enough to save him.