US orders probe of British aid worker's death in Afghanistan
The US has ordered a probe into the death of a British aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan amid fears she may have been killed by a grenade detonated by American troops attempting to rescue her.
The top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, ordered the investigation Monday after a review of the operation they launched to try to free Linda Norgrove.
British officials had initially said 36-year-old Norgrove, who was kidnapped on September 26 in eastern Afghanistan, died when one of her Taliban captors blew up a suicide vest in the failed-US led rescue operation on Friday.
US President Barack Obama passed his condolences to British Prime Minister David Cameron in a phone conversation late Monday, said a statement from Cameron's office.
The leaders "agreed that the decision to launch the rescue operation had been right, given the grave danger to Linda's life, and that US forces had shown great courage," a Downing Street spokesman said in a statement.
"The prime minister and the president agreed that it was now essential to get to the bottom of what had happened in the course of the rescue operation."
But their show of unity did little to prevent a growing backlash in Britain in response to the latest development.
Some commentators warned it could put relations between Washington and London under strain as they try to face down a fierce Taliban insurgency and find a way out of the protracted military campaign.
If it was confirmed that Norgrove had been killed by a US grenade, "it would be an inescapable indictment of a botched mission that would cast a long shadow over Anglo-American relations," said the Times of London.
Britain is the second-largest troop contributor to the Afghan war effort after the US, with some 9,500 soldiers in the country.
Friends of Norgrove meanwhile said the news would make it harder for her parents, who live on the Isle of Lewis, off Scotland's northwest coast, to deal with the tragedy.
Margaret MacLeod, the aid worker's former teacher, said the news was "absolutely shocking", in comments to the Daily Telegraph newspaper
"This makes it a lot harder to comprehend, especially for the parents," she said.
"They, like everybody else, will want hard questions answered fully."
Norgrove was working for US development group DAI when she and three Afghan colleagues were kidnapped while travelling in Kunar province, a hotbed of Taliban activity in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.
Breaking the news of the latest development at a Downing Street press conference Monday, a stony-faced Cameron said: "Linda could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault.
"However this is not certain and a full US-UK investigation will now be launched."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament he gave the green light for the operation because the kidnappers were linked to the Taliban, and it was feared they could hand Norgrove to Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan.
"At no stage was any serious attempt made by those holding her to negotiate," Hague said. Her captors aimed to "pass her further up the Taliban command chain to make her more inaccessible," he added.
Once hostages are taken to Pakistan, tracking their whereabouts becomes far more difficult. Western troops are also barred from operating there.
In Kabul, a US military statement confirmed that Petraeus had ordered the investigation "immediately following additional information developed by the military commander in charge of the rescue operation."
Initial reports had indicated the blast was triggered by her captors, it said, but added: "Subsequent review of surveillance footage and discussions with members of the rescue team do not conclusively determine the cause of her death."
US Central Command would start the investigation, US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Dorrian spokesman told AFP.
© 2010 AFP