U.S. Rescuers May Have Killed Briton Held by Taliban (New york times)
Date : 2010-10-11 10:43:22
LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that a British aid worker killed in an American rescue raid in Afghanistan last week may have been killed by a grenade detonated by a United States special forces unit — not by her Taliban captors, as the American command in Afghanistan originally announced.
A grim-faced Mr. Cameron appeared at a news conference at 10 Downing Street to say he had learned of “this deeply distressing development” when the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David H. Petraeus, contacted his office early Monday. “General Petraeus has since told me,” the prime minister said, that an American-led review of the raid to rescue Linda Norgrove, 36, “has revealed evidence to indicate that Linda may not have died at the hands of her captors as originally believed.”
He added: “That evidence and subsequent interviews with the personnel involved” — believed to have included a Navy Seals unit specializing in hostage rescues that that has participated in numerous special forces raids in Afghanistan — “suggest that Linda could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault. However, this is not certain and a full U.S./U.K. investigation will now be launched.”
NATO officials in Kabul said that a review of surveillance footage showed that a hand grenade was thrown in the area where Ms. Norgrove’s body was found. “The review showed what was believed to be a member of the rescue team throwing a hand grenade in the area near where Linda Norgrove was later found,” said Maj. Sunset Belinsky, a spokeswoman at NATO headquarters in Kabul.
Ms. Norgrove, who was from a remote crofter’s cottage in the western isles of Scotland, was kidnapped by the Taliban in the mountainous eastern province of Kunar on Sept. 26, together with three Afghan companions who were later released. She was working for an American aid organization, Development Alternatives Inc., or D.A.I., that carries out projects in Afghanistan under contract with the United States Agency for International Development.
She was based at the D.A.I. offices in the eastern city of Jalalabad when she set out in an unarmored car, without security guards, to review a project several hours’ drive away in a part of Kunar that is heavy with Taliban fighters. British officials said that American military intelligence experts working from high-altitude surveillance provided by unmanned drones had traced the kidnappers and Ms. Norgrove to a mud-walled compound high in the Korengal Valley, an area that has been the scene of bloody firefights in recent years between the Taliban and American forces.
Mr. Cameron appeared at pains not to sound reproving about the American role in the rescue bid, in which at least six Taliban fighters were also killed. After Ms. Norgrove’s death in the raid was announced on Saturday, Mr. Cameron emphasized that the raid had been approved by Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, and that he had been kept informed.
The raid recalled the operation to free a reporter for The New York Times and his translator from Taliban captors in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunar in September 2009. In that case, the British prime minister at the time, Gordon Brown, approved a raid by British special forces units carried to the hostage hideout by American helicopters, and the reporter, Stephen Farrell, was rescued unharmed.
But the translator, Sultan Munadi, was killed in the raid, as were a soldier in Britain’s Parachute Regiment and two Afghan civilians.
On Monday, government officials in London disclosed that the so-called Cobra committee, a multi-agency group chaired by the prime minister that oversees high-level security operations, had met a dozen times since Ms. Norgrove’s kidnapping to review plans to rescue her and to approve the final plan. Mr. Hague told the House of Commons that Ms. Norgrove’s captors were members of a Salafist group — an extreme form of Islam — and that a United States special forces team had been on 30-minute standby to mount a rescue raid from the day Ms. Norgrove was seized.
Beyond defending his own government’s role in approving the raid, Mr. Cameron appeared eager to pre-empt possible second-guessing from military experts and others in Britain who have been quick to condemn American units for alleged heavy-handedness in counterinsurgency operations, and to suggest that Britain’s far smaller, less technology-reliant forces bring an experience and battlefield wisdom to their role that the Americans lack.
Suggestions of that kind have been an irritant in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Britain’s forces have been second only to the United States’ in the numbers of troops deployed and their willingness to accept the toughest combat roles.
But not for the first time, a strong countertone was struck by Mr. Cameron, who has pledged to promote Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States and to repair some of the damage he believes was done to the relationship during the testy, often pugnacious prime ministership of his predecessor, Gordon Brown, who severely tested United States-British relations with his rapid withdrawal of British troops from the Iraqi city of Basra in 2007.
“I’m clear that the best chance of saving Linda’s life was to go ahead, recognizing that any operation was fraught with risk for all those involved, and success could by no means be guaranteed,” Mr. Cameron said in his Monday statement, adding: “Linda was taken and held in a part of Afghanistan under U.S. command. That is why this operation was carried out by U.S. forces. From the moment Linda was taken hostage General Petraeus has treated her as if she was a U.S. citizen. He and U.S. forces did everything in their power to bring Linda home safely.
“And we should remember that Linda was being held at a remote location high in the mountains.”
Mr. Cameron said that one reason for approving the raid was that “those on the ground and in London” who had reviewed the situation ahead of the raid feared that Ms. Norgrove “was going to be passed up the terrorist chain which would increase further the already high risk that she would be killed”. He went on: “This was a difficult operation. We should also remember that ultimately the responsibility for Linda’s death lies with those who took her hostage. The U.S. forces placed their own lives in danger. General Petraeus has told me they are deeply dismayed at the outcome. I want to thank them for their courage.”
The prime minister said he had spoken with Ms. Norgrove’s father, John, 60, who had issued a video appeal with his wife, Lorna, 62, that included a desperate appeal for the continuation of negotiations for their daughter’s release — negotiations that Mr. Hague, the foreign secretary, said Monday had never reached “a serious stage.” Mr. Cameron said of Ms. Norgrove’s parents, “My thoughts and the thoughts of the whole country are with them, as they come to terms with the death of their daughter and this deeply distressing development.”
Senior British officials said the Norgroves were aware that a rescue attempt was a possibility but had not been asked for their approval. Speaking from his home on the Isle of Lewis after Mr. Cameron’s statement, Mr. Norgrove offered no substantive comment of his own. “We are not saying anything to the press at the moment,” he said. “We might issue a statement in another day or two.”