14 Oct 2010

British aid worker Linda Norgrove killed by the Taliban

Channel 4 News examines the tragic death of aid worker Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan, following claims a US grenade killed her in a “dangerous” failed rescue mission.

Linda Norgrove went missing in Kunar province on Sunday 26 September 2010. She had been travelling in a two car convoy when the vehicles were stopped by armed men.

Norgrove, 36, originally from Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, was then abducted alongside three Afghan nationals.

A decision was made on Friday 8 October to send troops in to free her, but the mission failed and Ms Norgrove was killed in an explosion – initially believed to have been caused by a bomb vest triggered by the insurgents. It is now feared a US grenade caused the blast.

My thoughts are with Linda’s family, who will be devastated by this tragic news. David Cameron

In a statement Foreign Secretary William Hague said that allies were tipped off where she was being held and that “given the danger she was facing, her best chance of safe release was to act on that information”.

Mr Hague added: “Responsibility for this tragic outcome rests squarely with the hostage takers. From the moment they took her, her life was under grave threat. Given who held her, and the danger she was in, we judged that Linda’s best chance lay in attempting to rescue her.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said it had been “right to try” to secure Ms Norgrove’s release.

“Decisions on operations to free hostages are always difficult. But where a British life is in such danger, and where we and our allies can act, I believe it is right to try.

“I pay tribute to the courage and skill of all those involved in this effort, and join the foreign secretary in condemning hostage taking.”

Colonel Richard Kemp
'This mission would only have been authorised if the intelligence showed she was about to be killed', writes Colonel Richard Kemp
I was involved for several years in the top level command of a number of political kidnapping incidents, working to achieve the release or rescue of hostages like Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The decision to launch a rescue mission is always a tough one, whether with British or US special forces, both of which are the most capable in the world.

Missions like last night's will only be authorised if there is no other way of getting the hostage out alive. This is because when someone is in the hands of ruthless killers like the Kunar Taliban, they will be ready to kill in an instant rather than allow a rescue to succeed. For the special forces it is quite literally a race against time from the second they hit the ground.

This mission would only have been authorised if the intelligence showed that Linda Norgrove was about to be killed, or moved to an area where she could not be tracked or where a rescue would have been much more risky.

Although the operation did not succeed, we should admire the courage of the US special forces troops who tried to save her, putting their own lives on the line. And we should roundly condemn the Taliban extremists who were prepared to heartlessly murder a woman who was in Afghanistan only to help ease the suffering of the local community.

Colonel Kemp is former chairman of the government's Cobra Intelligence Group.

Unnecessary and dangerous?

One of the Afghans taken hostage with Ms Norgrove claimed to Channel 4 News that the operation to set her free had been “unnecessary and dangerous”.

The fellow captive, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The kidnappers were simply interested in ransom and I think the rescue [attempt] was unnecessary and should not [have] put her life in danger.”

Meanwhile, International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Commander General David Petraeus said: “Afghan and coalition security forces did everything in their power to rescue Linda.

“Linda was a courageous person with a passion to improve the lives of Afghan people, and sadly she lost her life in their service.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time.”

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has sent Ms Norgrove’s friends and relatives his condolences.

He said: “This is extremely sad and upsetting, and I extend my deepest condolences to Linda Norgrove’s family and friends at this heartbreaking time.

“Ms Norgrove was a dedicated aid worker who was doing everything she could to help people in Afghanistan – hopefully that legacy of service in a humanitarian cause can be of some comfort to her loved ones in their time of grief.”

Ms Norgrove had been working for the American development organisation, DAI, as did her three local colleagues. DAI have about 2,000 staff in Afghanistan and is an experienced group, having worked in the country since 2002.

Based in Jalalabad, Ms Norgrove supervised reconstruction programmes in the eastern region of Afghanistan funded by the US government.

Read more: Afghanistan special report – taking on the Taliban

Hague defends attempt to rescue Linda Norgrove
In a statement to the Commons, Foreign Secretary William Hague has told MPs he authorised the operation to rescue Linda Norgrove "from the very beginning".

William Hague told the Commons that the government had to act quickly to authorise the attempted rescue of aid worker Linda Norgrove.

"On the basis of all the information available to us, we were under no doubt whatsoever that there was a grave threat to Linda's life," Mr Hague said.

He told MPs there was no attempt by her captors to negotiate Linda Norgrove's release and it was believed this could be the only chance to attempt a rescue mission.

Read more: Hague defends attempt to rescue Linda Norgrove

Norgrove death could result in ‘severe punishment’

On Monday 11 October David Cameron told a press conference that Linda Norgrove may have been killed by a “taskforce grenade” during the rescue operation by US forces.

The prime minister said “Linda’s life was in grave danger from the moment she was taken” but insisted the rescue operation was the best option available.

Read more: aid worker may have been killed by US grenade

The senior US commander in Afghanistan, General Petraeus, met with David Cameron two days later to discuss the circumstances surrounding the death.

General Petraeus has promised he will make it a “personal priority” to find out how she had died.

The Guardian reported that a Seal Team Six soldier, a specialist squad similar to the SAS, did not see Norgrove during a bid to rescue her and tossed a grenade which detonated next to her.

Disciplinary action

Channel 4 News has learned that disciplinary action for such an offence would likely be severe.

The former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, said that, in his experience, failure to inform a commanding officer about the use of a grenade could result in a number of disciplinary actions.

He explained: “Obviously it is difficult to speculate until the investigation takes place, but the disciplinary action would range from a reduction in rank, being made to re-train, or something even more serious that would be decided in a court.”

Colonel Kemp added that the latest reports about the circumstances surrounding Norgrove’s death “sound probable.”