Britain confirms hostage killed by US grenade in Afghanistan

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A British aid worker was killed by a grenade thrown by a US soldier during a botched attempt to rescue her from Taliban kidnappers in Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed Thursday.

He added that members of the US special forces team that tried to rescue Linda Norgrove on October 8 have been disciplined for initially suggesting that she was killed when a suicide vest was detonated.

"Linda Norgrove died as a result of penetration fragmentation injuries to the head and chest," Hague told parliament, announcing the results of a joint US-British investigation into the 36-year-old's death.

"After the investigation it is clear that these injuries were caused by the grenade."

He praised the courage of US forces, saying they had embarked on an "incredibly difficult operation" to save Norgrove, but said the misleading reports were a "matter of concern".

The soldiers had reported the fact that they used a grenade in the rescue bid but this was not passed up the chain of command, and senior officers only learned of it while viewing video footage, Hague said.

"The investigation team found that the failure to disclose information that a grenade was thrown breached US military law," he said.

"As a result, members of the rescue team have been disciplined for failing to provide a complete and full account of their actions in accordance with US military procedure."

Hague said that after Norgrove was abducted on September 26, about 1,000 US and Afghan forces had made it their "sole mission" to locate her, as British authorities believed a rescue attempt was the only way to secure her release.

She was finally tracked down to an remote area high in the Dewagal valley in the eastern Kunar province, a hotbed of Taliban activity.

Two groups of US special forces were sent in in two helicopters, landing in total darkness on a near vertical mountain side, where two groups of buildings were built into the steep slope.

Intelligence, analysis and surveillance suggested Norgrove was being held in the upper group, Hague said.

One team landed near the lower group but immediately came under fire.

"A grenade was thrown by a member of the rescue team who feared for his own life and for those of his team, towards a gully from which some of the insurgents had emerged," Hague said.

The team moved on to the higher group of buildings, only to discover Norgrove had been in their first location.

"It became apparent that Linda had been taken by her captors into the gully into which the grenade had been thrown, and where her body was now discovered," he said.

Norgrove's parents, John and Lorna, were briefed on the investigation's findings on Wednesday and Hague met them before his announcement Thursday.

In a brief statement, they said: "We would like some time to digest this and the contents of the report before we make any further comment."

The US military was reviewing its tactics, techniques and procedures for hostage rescue operations in the wake of Norgrove's death, Hague said, adding that these lessons would be shared with the British.

US Central Command said in a statement that it would not release any further information on the investigation until an inquest in Norgrove's death was completed in Britain, likely early next year.

But it added: "Although Ms. Norgrove's death is a terrible tragedy, the insurgents who kidnapped her bear the ultimate responsibility for her death.

"US Central Command sincerely regrets the loss of life that resulted from this terrible incident, and we extend our deepest condolences to the Norgrove family for their tragic loss."

© 2010 AFP

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