11 Oct 2010

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.

“We could not be sure there would be an opportunity to try to rescue her again.” Foreign Secretary William Hague

“We were aware this was a group with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

“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.

“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.”

“All such rescue operations involve a measure of risk which has to be weighed against a constant risk to a hostage and a risk that such an opportunity to undertake a rescue operation may not recur.

“We should also remember that the responsibility for the loss of Linda’s life lies with those who took her hostage.”

New information
It was initially reported that Ms Norgrove died after her captors detonated a bomb vest as American troops attempted to rescue her, but General David Petraeus told Downing Street this morning that a review of the rescue operation had uncovered new information.

“Every indication over the weekend suggested she had been killed by a suicide vest but that changed when General David Petraeus contacted Downing Street today,” Mr Hague said.

“The initial viewing (of the rescue attempt) suggested it was an explosion caused by the hostage takers.

“But on a second viewing by different US personnel it was found that there was another possibility”

He said that, while US forces were “extremely practiced in their operations, that does not mean however that every mission succeeds.”

Mr Hague apologised for the inaccurate information announced at the weekend.

“We will err on the side of transparency, but we will give the country all the information available to us,” he said.

“The role of British special forces was to supply a liaison officer, but – contrary to some media reports – it was not to take part in the planning of the rescue operation.

“I can’t expand further on intelligence but everyone concerned was agreed that there was a threat to the life of Linda Norgrove.”

‘Fully involved’
Mr Hague insisted the government would be “fully involved” with all investigations.

ISAF will carry out a full investigation into what happened and that investigation wil take place as rapidly as possible.

“We will certainly keep Linda’s family informed as much as possible.”

He told MPs “Often people take considerable risks in order to deliver humanitarian aid … and we should salute the people who do that.”

“The taking of hostages and targetting of civilians, including aid workers, is under any circumstances morally indefensible.”

Originally from Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, Ms Norgrove was working in Afghanistan for Development Alternatives Inc (DAI) when she was seized by captors in Kunar province on 26 September.