11 Oct 2010

Cameron: aid worker may have been killed by US grenade

David Cameron tells a news conference at Downing Street that aid worker Linda Norgrove “may not have died at the hands of her captors” but by a grenade detonated by her would-be rescuers.

David Cameron has told a press conference that the British hostage Linda Norgrove may have been killed by a “taskforce grenade” during a rescue operation by US forces in Afghanistan.

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.

“None of us can understand just how painful this must be for Linda’s family.” David Cameron

“You can never be certain that going ahead with an operation like this will lead to the successful release of a hostage,” Mr Cameron told the news conference.

“I am clear that the best chance of saving Linda’s life was to go ahead, recognising that any operation was fraught with risk for all those involved and success was by no means guaranteed.

“General Petraeus and US forces did everything in their power to bring Linda home safely.

“The US 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,” he said.

Hague’s approval
Mr Cameron confirmed that – as reported by Channel 4 News at the weekend – the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, had given his personal approval “after careful consideration” for the rescue operation to go ahead. The decision had his full support as Prime Minister, he added.

Mr Cameron apologised for the hour-long delay to the news conference but said he had to deal with the “new information that had come to light” and speak to Linda Norgrove’s father.

“None of us can understand just how painful this must be for Linda’s family,” he said.

“I want to assure Mr and Mrs Norgrove that I will do everything I possibly can to establish the full facts and give them certainty about how their daughter died.”

He said there would be a full investigation into the circumstances of the death of the aid worker.

‘The right decision’
The former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, told Channel 4 News the rescue attempt was “the right decision” and was “the best chance [Linda] had of coming out alive”.

“I think we shouldn’t forget how incredibly difficult these sort of operations are,” Colonel Kemp said.

“The American rescuers who went in there in order to save Linda’s life, put their own lives at immense risk and were in a very difficult situation. They were abseiling by night into a stronghold prepared for defence by a ruthless enemy.

“A very difficult situation, extremely confused. And in many ways the odds were always stacked up against this operation succeeding.

“I dont believe the outcome would necessarily have been any different if British special forces had been used in the operation. The Americans are extremely capable.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs he authorised the rescue operation “from the very beginning”.

“From the very start Cobra assessed that Linda’s life was in grave danger which is why I authorised, from the very beginning, a rescue attempt to be made in the right circumstances.”

“We had information from the outset that the objective of Linda’s captors was to pass her further up the Taliban command chain and perhaps move her to even more inaccessible terrain. We could not be sure there would be an opportunity to try to rescue her again,” Mr Hague said.

How we reported the 'wrong' information

There needs to be a 'thorough review' into how journalists were given wrong information about Linda Norgrove's death, writes reporter Carl Dinnen

I do my best not to tell lies on Channel 4 News, I really do.

But in some situations a reporter can only go on what they're given by those who say they know what went on.

And that's what happened yesterday.

When I said on Sunday that it was believed Linda Norgrove was killed in an explosion "most probably from a suicide vest held by one of her captors" I was quoting a senior British official. They asked me not to say that the information came from them, I said I wouldn't and therefore I didn't attribute it. Now that the information looks decidedly shakey, I feel it's important you should understand where it came from.

The NATO Press Office in Kabul later gave me the same information and, to their credit, have said they want to apologise for doing so.

I feel a little sickened about passing on something which may turn out to be so completely wrong to C4 News viewers. I suspect there will be considerable anger within British government circles and NATO about how that information came to be passed to us.

Most importantly this means there has to be a more thorough review of the whys and wherefores of the rescue mission. Most kidnappings in Afghanistan are resolved peacefully according to the International Assistance Mission there. A number of Afghan leaders have said they thought this one could have been as well.

NATO have to answer for that more completely if it turns out they killed Linda Norgrove, albeit accidently, as does the Foreign Secretary who told them they could go ahead with the mission as they saw fit.

General David Petraeus has also called for a full investigation into Linda Norgrove’s death.

Questioned by reporters, the Prime Minister said that he had been contacted early this morning by General Petraeus – the head of coailition forces in Afghanistan – and had then spoken to Linda Norgrove’s father to let him know of the latest information.

‘Deeply regrettable’
He said it was “deeply regrettable” that initial reports – that Miss Norgrove had been killed by one of her captors triggering a suicide vest – now appeared to have been inaccurate.

“The information published on Saturday is highly likely to have been incorrect. But the statements were made in good faith and on the basis of the information that we received,” he said.

Miss Norgrove, originally from Sutherland in Scotland, was seized by militants in Kunar province on 26 September while working for western aid organisation Development Alternatives Inc (DAI).

Mr Cameron said: “Linda’s death is a tragedy for her family and those who worked alongside her in Afghanistan.

“She was a dedicated professional doing a job she loved in a country she loved.”

“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,” he said.

Why aid workers will continue to be targetted in Afghanistan
The west has dangerously blurred the distinction between military war and civilian aid, writes chief correspondent Alex Thomson.

A little context goes a long way in times of war. So it might be useful to look at the environment in which western NGOs are working in Afghanistan, given the recent deaths of two British women.

From the outset in a war now twice as old as World War Two, the west has dangerously blurred the distinction between military war and civilian aid.

The US airforce dropped food aid during its initial Afghan bombing campaign in 2001. What were civilians supposed to make of a war in which the Americans could pancake your house with high-explosive – or lob a parcel of food and blankets through your roof?

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