NATO Probes Death Of Aid Worker In Afghanistan
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
The U.S. military is investigating whether a British aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan may have been accidentally killed by troops sent to free her.
Linda Norgrove died over the weekend during an American-led rescue effort. It was originally believed her captors killed her, but new information has come to light, suggesting she may have been killed by an American grenade.
NPR's Quil Lawrence sent this report from the mountainous region near where Norgrove was killed.
QUIL LAWRENCE: Linda Norgrove, a 36-year-old Scottish woman, had spent much of the past five years in Afghanistan. She spoke Dari and was known to many communities in the eastern province of Kunar, where she worked on agricultural development for a USAID subcontractor. Kunar is also home turf to several Taliban-related insurgent and criminal gangs, and it was there that gunmen stopped her along the main highway. They dressed her in men's clothing and took her by mule into the mountains, according to Lieutenant Colonel Joel Vowell, who commands U.S. forces in the area.
Lieutenant Colonel JOEL VOWELL: They knew what they were doing, and they were organized to be pretty effective. That's why I knew we were racing against time.
LAWRENCE: American troops from all over the Kunar River Valley scrambled to close off possible escape routes, and they soon had a name: Malawi Bashir(ph), who was suspected of running kidnappings to raise funds for the Taliban.
Over a thousand U.S. and Afghan soldiers canvassed the mile-high mountains near where Norgrove was taken. By helicopter, they dropped leaflets with her description as a humanitarian worker.
Lt. Col. VOWELL: We found in our searches that many people had met her, and they were kind of astonished that the kidnappers would take such a good person like this.
LAWRENCE: The military influx drew fire from other insurgent groups. Vowell says his soldiers killed at least 60 fighters the first week, which increased the pressure on Malawi Bashir. Telephone intercepts showed that Bashir was trying to contact Taliban leaders for instructions, according to Colonel Vowell. Other intercepts led to a location: a mud and timber shack over 9,000 feet up a mountain. At this point, Vowell says, insurgent groups in the area wanted to murder the kidnappers and the victim just to get the Americans to leave. Vowell feared that Norgrove would simply disappear.
The British government gave a green light, and U.S. Special Forces conducted a predawn air assault. Six kidnappers, including Malawi Bashir, died in the raid. Linda Norgrove also died.
Lt. Col. VOWELL: It wasn't our intention. Our intention was to get her back safe. We did get her back.
LAWRENCE: Today, General David Petraeus ordered an investigation to see if the hostage died in the explosion of a suicide vest, as originally reported, or from a grenade thrown by one of her would-be rescuers.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News, embedded with U.S. forces in Kunar province, Afghanistan.