President Barack Obama reiterated his regret Friday for the deaths of two hostages in a U.S. counterterrorism operation, saying "we all bleed when we lose an American life."
Speaking in Washington to members of the U.S. intelligence community, the president said the news that American aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto had been killed was "hard" for him to absorb.
"We all grieve when any innocent life is taken," Obama said in a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "We don't take this work lightly."
Obama's comments come just one day after he announced the deaths of the two hostages, who were being held by al-Qaida on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
A U.S. official told VOA Thursday the two men were killed on January 14 during airstrikes by unmanned drone aircraft.
The U.S. leader personally apologized Thursday for the incident, saying he takes "full responsibility."
"I profoundly regret what happened," he told reporters at the White House.
U.S. officials say Ahmed Farouq, an American believed to be an al-Qaida leader, was killed in the same operation.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday the administration would not call the operation that killed the two hostages an "accident," since it fulfilled its mission of taking al-Qaida leaders off the battlefield. Earnest said Weinstein's death was a "tragic, unintended consequence."
U.S. officials have concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who had served as a spokesman for the terror network, was killed in a separate American operation in January.
"While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qaida members, neither was specifically targeted," Thursday's White House statement said, and there was no "information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations."
Pakistan, meanwhile, has expressed "shock and sorrow" over the deaths.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its "heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families," and said the deaths of the two hostages "in a drone strike demonstrates the risk and unintended consequences of the use of this technology that Pakistan has been highlighting for a long time."
Obama said Thursday the U.S. did not know that the hostages were there when the operation was launched.
"Based on the intelligence that we obtained at the time, including hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed this was an al-Qaida compound, that no civilians were present and that capturing these terrorists was not possible," he said.
A U.S. official told VOA that they "had near clarity” on what was targeted on January 14 and 19, after intelligence showed "a pattern of life" at the compound and "assessed with a very high level of confidence the compounds hosted only al-Qaida members."
“These hostages had been hidden and well-concealed," the official said.
The White House says the president did not personally sign off on the two specific strikes in which the hostages were killed.
Lo Porto was kidnapped in January 2012 while working in Pakistan for the German aid group Welthungerhilfe.
Weinstein, who was from a suburb of Washington, was 73 years old. He was a business-development expert working in Pakistan on a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He had been in Pakistan for close to seven years when gunmen stormed his residence and took him away in 2011.
In a statement, his wife Elaine Weinstein said the family cannot even begin to express the pain they are going through. She said while they look forward to the results of a U.S. government investigation into the circumstances of his death, the "ultimate responsibility" is with those who took Warren captive.
She also expressed disappointment with the government and military in Pakistan who she says "failed to take action earlier in his captivity when the opportunity presented itself".