The Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2010

British aid worker in Afghanistan was killed by a US grenade

Ms. Norgrove, 36 years old, was slain on Oct. 8 as what a person familiar with the matter

By Alistair MacDonald

LONDON—Kidnapped British aide worker Linda Norgrove was killed by a grenade thrown by U.S. special operations forces in a botched rescue attempt, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said an investigation has confirmed.

British aid worker Linda Norgrove
British aid worker Linda Norgrove. (Photo: Reuters)

Ms. Norgrove's death in Afghanistan in October was initially blamed on her Taliban captors before U.S. forces said they may have been responsible and set up a joint investigation into the death with British military experts. Ms. Norgrove, 36 years old, was slain on Oct. 8 as what a person familiar with the matter described as a team of Navy Seals stormed the compound where she was being held in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

The grenade had been thrown by a U.S. soldier at a group of insurgents as he advanced along a narrow ledge towards a series of buildings in which U.S. troops believed Ms. Norgove was being held. Ms. Norgrove was with the insurgents and died from shrapnel from a fragmentation-grenade that pierced her head and chest, wounds which at first were believed to have been from a suicide vest.

The failed rescue attempt has led to disciplinary action for members of the special operations forces team for "failing to provide a complete and full account of their actions," Mr. Hague said.

Ms. Norgrove was traveling along a main road in Kunar province when she was abducted in September by a local Taliban faction linked to al Qaeda. She was working with Development Alternatives Inc., one of the largest development contractors working for the U.S. State Department in Afghanistan. Three Afghans abducted with Ms. Norgrove were subsequently released unharmed.

The rescue came at the end of an operation which had deployed around 1,000 U.S. and Afghan troops when two helicopters dropped U.S. troops off near to two small groups of buildings high in the Dewagal valley.

Mr. Hague said U.S. special operations forces had been operating in total darkness and descended from helicopters at a near-vertical incline of a rugged mountainside, 8,000 feet in height.

U.S. and U.K. forces typically don't use grenades in such hostage rescues and the soldier who threw it has been disciplined by U.S. forces after not reporting his use to senior officers, Mr. Hague said.

The U.K. minister praised the bravery of U.S. troops but said it was a "matter of concern" that the facts of how Ms. Norgrove died were not made clear immediately after the operation.

Mr. Hague said he had given the authority to mount the operation because he concluded that Ms. Norgrove's life was at risk. "We judged that Linda Norgrove's life was in grave danger from the moment she was abducted, and we feared that her captors would pass her higher up the Taliban chain of command or move her to more inaccessible terrain," he told parliament. "We also judged that the only credible prospect of securing her release was through a rescue attempt, which is why I authorized such an attempt to be made."

The joint U.S. and U.K. investigation was conducted by a ten-man team over two and a half weeks in Afghanistan. It interviewed all the personnel involved in the rescue attempt, and assessed hours of video evidence and hundreds of pages of documentary evidence.

Mr. Hague said that the U.S. military is reviewing tactics, techniques and procedures involved in hostage rescue operations following Ms. Norgrove's death.

"U.S. Central Command sincerely regrets the loss of life that resulted from this terrible incident, and we extend our deepest condolences to the Norgrove family for their tragic loss," a spokesman for U.S. forces said.

Hostage rescues have proven deadly before. Last September, British special operations forces rescued a kidnapped New York Times reporter but his translator was killed in the attempt.

Characters Count: 4463

URL for news «British aid worker in Afghanistan was killed by a US grenade»