US Drone Strike in Pakistan Kills Civilian Hostages

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President Obama announced that two Al Qaeda hostages were killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan.
Source: Bob Fredericks and Ben Feuerherd, “American, Italian al Qaeda Hostages Killed in Drone Strike,” nypost.com, Apr. 23, 2015

The US government on Apr. 23, 2015 disclosed that two aid workers being held hostage by Al Qaeda in Pakistan were killed by a US drone strike in January. The CIA says it did not know that American Warren Weinstein, kidnapped in 2011, and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, captured in 2012, were present at the terrorist location, despite having conducted extensive surveillance of the compound.

President Obama said in an Apr. 23, 2015 statement: “As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations… Already, I have directed a full review of what happened… We will do our utmost to ensure it is not repeated.”

A senior White House official told CNN that President Obama has indicated his desire to shift control of the drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon, a goal shared by some Republican lawmakers. The Department of Defense usually coordinates the drone program in Afghanistan and Somalia, and has co-responsibility with the CIA for drones in Yemen. The CIA generally commands drone operations in places outside official combat zones, such as Pakistan.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, said on CNN’s State of the Union on Apr. 26, 2015, “[The drone program] has reached the point where it’s an integral part of the conflict and a very essential one, so I think it should be conducted and oversight and administered by the Department of Defense.”

The Harry L. Stimson Center, a Washington, DC think tank, released a report in 2014 calling for the drone program to be placed under military purview. The report said, “Parallel CIA and military UAV programs are, at best, duplicative and inefficient. At worst, the existence of parallel programs makes oversight more difficult and increases the risk of error and arbitrariness, since the CIA and military may have different standards for evaluating intelligence and identifying appropriate targets.”

Sources:

Gen. John P. Abizaid and Rosa Brooks (Task Force Co-Chairs), “Recommendations and Report of the Task Force on US Drone Policy,” stimson.org, 2014

Jim Acosta, “Obama to Make New Push to Shift Control of Drones from CIA to Pentagon,” CNN.com, Apr. 27, 2015

Peter Baker, “Obama Apologizes After Drone Kills American and Italian Held by Al Qaeda,” New York Times, Apr. 23, 2015

Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Amid Errors, Obama Publicly Wrestles with Drones’ Limits,” New York Times, Apr. 24, 2015

Jonathan Masters, “Targeted Killings,” cfr.org, May 23, 2013

Office of the Press Secretary, “Statement by the President on the Deaths of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto,” whitehouse.gov, Apr. 23, 2015