South Asia

Cameron defends UK hostage failed rescue bid

Linda Norgrove
Linda Norgrove, from the Isle of Lewis, was kidnapped by armed men in September

David Cameron has defended a failed rescue attempt by US forces in Afghanistan during which a British hostage was killed by her captors.

The prime minister said it had been "right to try" to secure the release of UK aid worker Linda Norgrove, 36, who was from Lewis, in the Western Isles.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said troops had done "everything in their power".

Ms Norgrove was seized in the eastern province of Kunar on 26 September.

Three local staff were also kidnapped when the two cars they were in were ambushed. The staff were released unharmed last week.

The Briton, who was employed by US aid group DAI, is believed to have been taken by her captors from village to village as British, Afghan and other intelligence agencies searched the remote area.

Officials said the prime minister and Foreign Secretary William Hague had been kept fully informed and approval had been given for a rescue mission to be mounted on Friday night, involving US forces with British officials offering advice.

Mr Cameron said: "Decisions on operations to free hostages are always difficult, but where a British life is in such danger, and where we and our allies can act, I believe it is right to try.

"I pay tribute to the courage and skill of all those involved in this effort, and join the foreign secretary in condemning hostage taking.

"My thoughts are with Linda's family, who will be devastated by this tragic news. She was doing valuable work for the Afghan people."

In an earlier statement, Mr Hague said the aid worker had been "killed at the hands of her captors in the course of a rescue attempt".

He said: "Responsibility for this tragic outcome rests squarely with the hostage takers.

"From the moment they took her, her life was under grave threat. Given who held her, and the danger she was in, we judged that Linda's best chance lay in attempting to rescue her."

A Foreign Office spokesman added: "There is nothing at all to suggest that US fire was the cause."

Gen Petraeus said US troops' thoughts and prayers were with her family during this difficult time.

And Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, expressed his "deepest condolences" following her "extremely sad and upsetting" death.

Ms Norgrove had been based in Jalalabad, where she supervised US-funded reconstruction programmes in the eastern region of Afghanistan.

'Wonderful woman'

DAI president James Boomgard said the loss of a "beloved friend and respected colleague" was "devastating news".

In a statement, he said: "We are saddened beyond words by the death of a wonderful woman whose sole purpose in Afghanistan was to do good, to help the Afghan people achieve a measure of prosperity and stability in their everyday lives as they set about rebuilding their country.

"Linda loved Afghanistan and cared deeply for its people, and she was deeply committed to her development mission. She was an inspiration to many of us here at DAI and she will be deeply missed."

Map of Afghanistan showing Kunar province
The area where Ms Norgrove was killed was extremely remote

Ms Norgrove, who had travelled extensively, was an experienced aid worker who had worked in a number of countries.

She worked for the United Nations in Afghanistan and Laos and, prior to that, led a conservation and poverty reduction project in Peru.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul said the Dewagal valley in eastern Kunar province, where she was held, is known for its difficult terrain. It is mountainous and densely forested.

There has never been any government control and the valley is ruled by militants, tribal elders and powerful clans.

Various armed groups operate in the area; Afghans and foreigners may be targeted by gangs seeking ransom money, but hostages are sometimes sold on to militant groups.

DAI carries out aid work, often subcontracted by the United States Agency for International Development.

In July, a British private security guard was among four people killed in an attack on DAI offices in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan.

Shaun Sexton, 29, from Northumberland, a former member of the Parachute Regiment, was working for the firm's security sub-contractor, Edinburgh International.

A month later, British doctor Karen Woo and nine other aid workers and translators were killed by gunmen in the north-eastern province of Badakhshan in what police said was a robbery.

Dr Woo worked for Christian International Assistance Mission, a charity providing eye care in remote villages.

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