The soldier who accidentally killed the kidnapped aid worker Linda Norgrove during a rescue mission in Afghanistan genuinely feared for the lives of his colleagues and himself, an inquest hears.
The US soldier who threw the grenade which killed Linda Norgrove “genuinely feared for the safety of the lives of his colleagues and also himself, and had to make a critical decision in a fraction of a second”, a coroner concluded at the inquest into her death.
Wiltshire coroner David Ridley gave a narrative verdict at the inquest at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner’s Court. He said the soldier who threw the grenade “acted unaware of Linda’s presence.”
“We miss her terribly. The whole affair is a tragedy.” Linda Norgrove’s family
Ms Norgrove’s family said in a statement: “What we have heard today at the inquest generally confirms the account given last year at the briefing we received following the joint US/UK military investigation.
“A series of chance events all going the wrong way and an error of judgment by one of the special forces resulted in our daughter’s death. She was a lovely girl, had so much to offer and was such a force for good in the world. We miss her terribly. The whole affair is a tragedy.”
When Ms Norgrove, 36, died in October, originally reports suggested that she had been killed by an insurgent who blew himself up. The aid worker was kidnapped by insurgents in Kunar province in September last year and died during a botched rescue mission.
It took 42 hours for the truth to be revealed – but US forces said this was not due to a cover-up.
Brigadier Robert Nitsch, who helped investigate the incident, said: “It was a matter of deep regret to the US forces that it took 42 hours for the correct story to get out.”
He added: “The team leader, in a previous tour of Afghanistan, has witnessed an insurgent blowing himself up in front of him. In his mind, that is what has happened here.
“(This was) one of the contributing factors why it wasn’t confirmed until later that Linda was killed by this grenade rather than by a suicide vest.”
The soldier who threw the grenade told the inquest: “I’m thinking if this guy rips full auto right now down our channel there are a couple of guys who are going to go down and it’s going to get real ugly, real fast…I’m thinking at a million miles a minute at this stage.”
The inquest also heard that visibility was so poor during the rescue mission that Ms Norgrove could not be seen – and that the action itself only took 59 seconds.
The soldiers moved in on 8 October on “hostile mountain terrain” but only identified Ms Norgrove was there eight or nine minutes into the mission, after she had been killed.
Channel 4 News Special Report on Afghanistan
US troops shot and killed one insurgent as they came on to a terrace near the buildings. The team then approached along a terrace. At this point Ms Norgrove and one of her captors left one of the buildings, Ms Norgrove stumbling as she went.
This was seen on an enhanced video of the operation afterwards but at the time the troops could not see that she was there.
“Linda was wearing dark clothing, there’s no visibility and she’s quite slight compared to the insurgent,” Brigadier Nitsch said.
A US team member shot the insurgent, who fell down some steps. Ms Norgrove also fell to the ground. It was around this time that the fatal grenade was launched.
“One of the team members decides he feels significantly under threat and makes the decision to throw a grenade into the gap between the buildings,” Brigadier Nitsch said. It was this grenade that killed Ms Norgrove, he said.