9 Oct 2010

Kidnapped UK aid worker killed in Afghanistan

David Cameron says it was “right to try” to rescue a UK aid worker killed in Afghanistan but one of the men kidnapped with her has told Channel 4 News the mission was “unnecessary” and “dangerous”.

Linda Norgrove went missing in Kunar province on Sunday 26 September. 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 to send troops in to free her. It has been confirmed she was killed by her captors during this mission. No British forces are said to have been involved. It is understood that seven insurgents were killed.

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.

“My thoughts are with Linda’s family, who will be devastated by this tragic news. She was doing valuable work for the Afghan people,” Mr Cameron said in a statement.

“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