Backlash mounts over journalist rescue in Afghanistan

11th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Some Afghan journalists expressed anger Thursday over the death of Sultan Munadi, the Afghan interpreter for journalist Stephen Farrell.

Kabul -- Criticism mounted Thursday of the dramatic airborne rescue from Taliban territory of a kidnapped Western journalist who walked free as four others, including his Afghan colleague, were killed.

Negotiators were deep in talks with the Taliban to free New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell and appeared to be progressing well when British commandos intervened with the rescue operation, a source told AFP.

Farrell, who has dual British-Irish nationality, was freed unharmed, but his Afghan colleague, father-of-two Sultan Munadi, as well as a British soldier and an Afghan woman and child were killed.

In Afghanistan, journalists expressed anger over the death of Munadi, saying it was "inhumane" that his bullet-riddled body had been abandoned at the scene.

Farrell and Munadi were the second team from The New York Times to be kidnapped in Afghanistan in less than a year. Their abduction highlighted growing insecurity in the once relatively peaceful north of the country.

Downing Street said British ministers approved the rescue, but one person involved in the Taliban talks told AFP that negotiations were under way and that no one believed the journalists were in imminent danger.

"There were a lot of people trying to make contact and keep the discussions going," the source told AFP, adding: "We had contact with different parties, and were urging them to release the two journalists unconditionally."

A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office confirmed media reports that Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth took the final decision to approve the use of force.

Public support for British involvement in the eight-year Afghan war is plummeting over record soldier fatalities and a controversial presidential election last month mired in allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.

British newspaper The Times, quoting defence sources, said the raid was mounted after British forces feared Farrell could be moved, and there were no guarantees that the negotiations would have led to his and Munadi's release.

However, several other sources quoted by the newspaper said the kidnappers were, at worst, seeking a ransom.

An unnamed Western official told the paper: "It was totally heavy-handed. If they'd showed a bit of patience and respect they could have got both of them out without firing a bullet."

A British Foreign Office spokesman refused to comment on reports that negotiations with the Taliban were underway.

Journalists expressed anger at the apparent disregard for the Afghan reporter. While his Western colleague was whisked to safety, Munadi's parents had to collect his body themselves. It remained unclear if he was killed by Taliban or foreign soldiers.

The Media Club of Afghanistan (MCA) said there was "no justification" for international forces to rescue Farrell and leave behind Munadi's body.

"The MCA deems this action as inhumane," said the informal grouping of Afghan journalists working for international media.

Naqibullah Taib, of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association, said Afghan reporters generally lacked the experience to make split-second judgments, and urged international news organisations to offer more training.

Munadi worked for The New York Times and Afghan state radio before going to Germany to study. He had returned to Kabul on a break to spend time with his wife and children.

Journalist colleagues visited his grave in Kabul to lay flowers and on Friday a memorial service will be held in a Kabul mosque.

Reaction to Farrell's release mirrored anger that many Afghans expressed over the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist in 2007. His interpreter was beheaded and his driver killed.

Farrell, writing about his four days in captivity and the rescue operation in The New York Times blog, said he was "comfortable" with his decision to go to the riverbank where a NATO air strike killed scores of people last week.

He said Munadi was shot dead right in front of him before the soldiers dragged him away to a helicopter.

"It was over,” he wrote. “Sultan was dead. He had died trying to help me, right up to the very last seconds of his life.”

Lynne O'Donnell/AFP/Expatica

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