US rescuers may have killed Brit in Afghan; Petraeus orders probe

David Petraeus ordered an investigation into the death of a British hostage.

Last Updated: Oct 11, 2010, 23:15 PM IST

Kabul: US General David Petraeus on Monday ordered an investigation into the death of a British hostage, saying it was not possible to determine conclusively the cause of her death following an attempted rescue.

British aid worker Linda Norgrove, 36, died during a failed US rescue operation late Friday, nearly two weeks after she was abducted with three Afghan colleagues on September 26 in eastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan.

Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, ordered the investigation "immediately following additional information developed by the military commander in charge of the rescue operation," according to the US military in Kabul.

"Subsequent review of surveillance footage and discussions with members of the rescue team do not conclusively determine the cause of her death," the US military statement said.

"General Petraeus contacted US Central Command... so they will initiate the investigation," US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Dorrian spokesman told AFP.

"It`s in US channels and they will invite members of the UK military to participate in that investigation," he said.

However, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that Norgrove was possibly killed by a grenade lobbed by a member of the US special forces rescue team.

Cameron said he had informed Norgrove`s family of the ``deeply distressing development,`` and defended the decision to attempt the risky rescue mission.

``We were clear that Linda`s life was in grave danger and the operation offered the best chance of saving her life,`` Cameron told reporters in London.

Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman at NATO headquarters in the Afghan capital Kabul, said Monday the rescue mission leader saw video footage of the raid, talked with members of the rescue team, and decided ``it was not conclusive what the cause of her death was.``

The rescue mission leader spoke with the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, who requested the investigation, Dorrian said. The probe will be led by US Central Command.

``An investigation has now been initiated to find out what actually happened ... We have to await the final outcome of the investigation before making any comments,`` NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels.

``But whatever happened, I would like to stress that those who are responsible (for her death) of course are the captors,`` he said.

Norgrove, who worked for US-funded Development Alternatives Inc., was abducted in an ambush on Sept. 26 along with three Afghan colleagues who were later released. Six kidnappers also died in the rescue attempt.

NATO was also investigating Monday the deaths of two civilians in southern Afghanistan a day earlier. Initial reports indicated they were killed in a NATO airstrike.

A joint force was attacked with small-arms fire in Kandahar on Sunday, NATO said. Troops called in an airstrike and followed up by firing mortar rounds in Zhari district.

``Two civilians may have been accidentally killed,`` said NATO, adding a child was also wounded. One insurgent died, it said.

An Afghan civilian was also killed by a roadside bomb planted by insurgents in Khost province Monday, NATO said.

The nine-year war has inflicted a mounting toll on Afghan civilians. A UN report said more than 1,200 Afghans died and nearly 2,000 were wounded between January and June this year.

In other violence, a roadside bomb killed a NATO service member in the south, the alliance said, without giving a nationality or exact location.

Monday`s death brought to 27 the number of NATO forces killed this month. At least 2,015 NATO service members have died since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, according to an Associated Press count.

In the east Monday, Taliban fighters ambushed a supply convoy guarded by Afghan military contractors as it traveled through Ghazni province on its way to Kandahar, said provincial chief of police Zarawar Zahid. An hourlong gunbattle killed eight insurgents and wounded two Afghan security contractors in Qarabagh district.

Six militants died in operations by Afghan forces Sunday in southern Helmand province`s Marjah and Greshk districts, the Defense Ministry said in a statement Monday.

President Hamid Karzai confirmed his government has been in informal talks with the Taliban on securing peace in war-weary Afghanistan ``for quite some time`` _ the latest in a series of high-level acknowledgments of contacts with the insurgent group.

Unofficial discussions have been held with Taliban representatives over an extended period, Karzai told CNN`s `` Larry King Live`` in an interview to be broadcast Monday.

The Afghan government says it hopes to make talks more structured with a ``peace council`` that will aim for formal talks with insurgent groups. On Sunday, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani was named chief of the council. Rabbani was one of a group of mujahedeen leaders who fought the Soviets in the 1980s. He was Afghanistan`s president between 1992 and 1996, when he was ousted by the Taliban.

Omar said the panel should become the conduit for formal talks. ``We hope that the signals that have been sent from the different representatives of the Taliban, and the kind of contact, direct and indirect, from the past will materialize into substantive talks led by the High Council of Peace,`` Omar said.

Publicly, the Taliban have said they won`t negotiate until foreign troops leave the country, yet many Taliban leaders have reached out directly or indirectly to the highest levels of the Afghan government, he said.

Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration`s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said militants must renounce al Qaeda, lay down their arms, and respect the country`s constitution _ particularly provisions protecting minorities and women.

Holbrooke told journalists and politicians in Berlin on Monday the talks did not involve the United States, and warned news organizations were exaggerating the importance of the discussions.

``The reports greatly exceed the reality,`` Holbrooke said. ``There`s no question that the Taliban are under tremendous military pressure, and that`s one of the reasons you`ve seen so much more recent comment about reconciliation.``

Bureau Report