Thursday, September 10, 2009

Negotiators Angered By British-Led Raid to Free NY Times Reporter

Hostage negotiators expressed shock and anger today at British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s sending in the muscle of a commando raid to free a kidnapped New York Times journalist, saying that they were within days of securing his release through peaceful means, James Hider, Philip Webster and Michael Evans of the London Times report this morning.

Stephen Farrell — a British citizen who was in Afghanistan as a reporter for The York Times was rescued in yesterday's commando raid, but his Afghan translator, Sultan Munadi, and a British soldier from the Special Forces Support Group were killed.

According to media reports, the raid took place in the village of Kharudi, which was the site of a recent air strike that killed dozens of people. The raid to rescue Farrell took place under the cover of darkness early Tuesday when U.S. helicopters were used to deploy British and Afghan troops. At least one civilian and many Taliban militants were killed in the firefight during the rescue.

The Times report continues:

Defence sources said that intensive efforts had been made over the weekend to pinpoint the hostages and assess the strength of the Taleban presence. They said there were no guarantees that a negotiated deal would have led to Mr. Farrell’s release and that there were fears he could be moved. However, several sources in Kabul said that the captors were, at worst, seeking a ransom. A Western source involved in the talks said: “There was no immediate urgency that they were going to be beheaded or handed over to another group. You cannot move them easily. It’s a very isolated area.”

Another Western official said: “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. Instead, they ended up having one of their own killed, the Afghan killed and civilians killed. There’s a lot of p****d-off people at the moment.”

The negotiations had begun within 24 hours of the kidnapping last week. The Interior Minister had persuaded 300 local elders to intercede with the kidnappers, saying that the hostages were just journalists doing their job. Mr Mudani’s uncle had established communications with the provincial Taleban commander. An Afghan who spoke with the local commander said: “I think we could have got them out peacefully, maybe in a few days.”

Tuesday night’s raid was approved by David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, after consulting Gordon Brown, The Times can confirm.

Mr Brown said: “Hostage-taking is never justified, and the UK does not make substantive concessions, including paying ransoms.”

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