US promises transparent probe into aid worker death

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US officials Tuesday promised a full and transparent probe into the death of a kidnapped British aid worker in Afghanistan, amid fears a US grenade may have killed her during a rescue bid.

"The president expressed his commitment to a complete and transparent investigation conducted with the UK," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, after the death of Linda Norgrove, 36.

Gibbs reiterated President Barack Obama had spoken to British Prime Minister David Cameron about the tragedy on Monday to pass on his condolences.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, Monday ordered an investigation into the incident after a review of the operation to try to free Norgrove and the surveillance video.

Major General Joseph Votel of US Special Operations Command, a two-star general, will conduct the investigation "in close cooperation" with British officials, US Central Command announced.

"They have certainly gotten the commander's intent that they need to be as expeditious as possible," said Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, without saying how long the investigation could last.

British officials had initially said Norgrove, 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.

But Cameron later said Petraeus had told him Norgrove might have been killed by a grenade detonated by US troops.

Lapan blamed the inconsistencies in the differing accounts of Friday's operation on the "fog of war."

"Like most incidents that we have, we rely on initial reports and we try to get information out quickly," he said.

Investigators would be "going deliberately through... not only witness statements but any kind of forensic evidence they might have -- video, all of those things together -- to try to piece together what happened and how it happened," he said.

Some commentators warned the incident 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.

Lapan downplayed talk of tensions between Washington and London over the incident, but acknowledged the United States "regretted the outcome."

The investigation will fall under an Army 15-6 probe, which gathers and analyzes facts before making recommendations, including for any possible disciplinary action.

Investigators were likely to focus on who tossed the grenade that may have killed Norgrove and why.

© 2010 AFP

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