President Obama personally took responsibility Thursday for the death of an American and an Italian hostage killed in a U.S. counter-terrorism operation in January, but his words appear to be little comfort to the family of the American, who said the U.S. government as a whole has been "inconsistent and disappointing" for years in their time of need.
“I want to thank Congressman John Delaney, Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Senator Ben Cardin -- as well as specific officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- for their relentless efforts to free my husband,” Elaine Weinstein, wife to slain hostage Warren Weinstein, said in a statement shortly after the White House's grim announcement. “Unfortunately, the assistance we received from other elements of the U.S. Government was inconsistent and disappointing over the course of three and a half years. We hope that my husband’s death and the others who have faced similar tragedies in recent months will finally prompt the U.S. Government to take its responsibilities seriously and establish a coordinated and consistent approach to supporting hostages and their families.”
The White House recently ordered a full review of how the U.S. deals with hostage situations, in the wake of the deaths of several Americans either in the clutches of al Qaeda or at the hands of the al Qaeda offshoot ISIS. U.S. officials told ABC News significant changes will be recommended in the coming weeks.
Today White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the White House is especially going to focus on how it communicates with the families of hostages.
“There is a premium on clear, direct, specific, regular, reliable communication with these families, and that can be difficult when you have a wide range of agencies that are involved in those conversations,” Earnest told reporters at the daily briefing. “The effort is to try to streamline those communications, to make that a communication more effective and more sensitive to the needs of these families.”
Earnest also reacted to Elaine Weinstein's biting remarks, saying it was "one that on a human level we would all understand and sympathize with."
"It also is understandable that they would have a lot of frustration about the fact that, despite the extensive and tireless efforts of a highly capable U.S. government, that were not able to rescue them," he said. "And I can understand -- and I think anybody could understand how frustrated that they would be about that, particularly now that they've learned that a U.S. counter-terrorism operation was actually responsible for his death."
Now still one more American family is facing the same ordeal, the family of 30-year-old Caitlin Coleman of Pennsylvania who may be the last of the US hostages held by a terror group.
Her parents received this video of their daughter last year from her Taliban captors, showing her with her Canadian husband and revealing she had given birth since being kidnapped in 2012.
"And I would ask that my family and my government do everything that they can to bring my husband, child and I to safety and freedom," Coleman says in the video.
But U.S. officials today said Coleman remains a hostage, with the FBI asking for information about her location, although not offering a monetary reward.
Weinstein was killed along with Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto in a CIA drone strike in mid-January in Pakistan's tribal area, a U.S. official told ABC News Thursday.
"I want to express our grief and condolences for the families of two hostages," Obama said Thursday from the White House briefing room, noting that at the time, the U.S. believed no civilians were present at the site.
"Since 9/11, our counter-terrorism efforts have prevented terrorism attacks and saved innocent lives, both here in America and around the world, and that determination to protect innocent life only makes the loss of these two men especially painful for all of us," he added. "It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur. But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes."
In her statement Thursday, Elaine Weinstein also blasted the Pakistani government and military, for whom she said her husband's safe return "should have been a priority for them based on his contributions to their country."
"[B]ut they failed to take action earlier in his captivity when opportunity presented itself, instead treating Warren’s captivity as more of an annoyance than a priority. I hope the nature of our future relationship with Pakistan is reflective of how they prioritize situations such as these," she wrote.
Today the Pakistani government said it can "fully understand this tragic loss," having lost "thousands of innocent civilians in the war against terrorism."
The strike that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto, and another strike just days later also took out two American members of al Qaeda, Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn. Neither, officials said, were the intended targets of the strike.
Prior to Thursday's announcement, the U.S. government had acknowledged killing four Americans in drone strikes since 2009 -- only one of whom, al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was an intended target.