LONDON (Reuters) - A British hostage who died in Afghanistan on Friday during a U.S.-led rescue mission may have been accidentally killed by the troops trying to save her, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday.
Linda Norgrove, 36, who worked for a U.S. aid group, had been abducted on September 26 along with three Afghan co-workers when they visited a project in a remote part of Kunar province, a lawless region bordering Pakistan.
Britain’s Foreign Office had said on Saturday that Norgrove had been killed by her captors during a failed rescue attempt.
Cameron said General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, had contacted his office to say a review of events had revealed evidence indicating that Norgrove may not have died at the hands of her captors.
“That evidence, and subsequent interviews with the personnel involved, suggests that Linda could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault,” Cameron told a news conference at his Downing Street office.
“However, this is not certain, and a full U.S.-UK investigation will now be launched,” he said.
Cameron will be able to discuss the investigation in person with Petraeus on Thursday when the general comes to Britain as part of a pre-arranged visit.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said Norgrove’s captors were believed to be a group allied to local Taliban insurgents with links ultimately to al Qaeda.
He said a review of military video footage had thrown doubt on the initial belief that Norgrove had been killed by the explosion of a suicide vest worn by one of her captors.
“The initial viewing of the various videos that were taken during this action suggested that it was an explosion caused by the hostage takers that had cost Linda Norgrove her life,” Hague told parliament.
“It was on a second viewing by different U.S. personnel that it appeared there was another possibility.”
Cameron said he took full responsibility for authorizing the operation to rescue the aid worker. He said intelligence at the time suggested Norgrove was about to be passed “up the terrorist chain of command,” placing her in an even more dangerous situation, and hence it had been urgent to act.
Cameron also said it was right that U.S. forces had attempted the rescue as Norgrove was being held in an area where military operations were under U.S. control.
“We were clear that Linda’s life was in grave danger and the operation offered the best chance of saving her life.”
The U.S. military in Kabul confirmed Petraeus had ordered an investigation into Norgrove’s death.
The prime minister’s office said late on Monday that Cameron had spoken to U.S. President Barack Obama and they agreed the decision to launch the rescue operation had been right.
“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,” it said in a statement.
Norgrove’s kidnapping highlighted the dangers faced by aid workers in Afghanistan, where insurgents and other armed groups hold sway in many parts of the country.
The rescue attempt was not the first such operation. A raid that freed New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, a Briton, from his Afghan captors last year provoked anger after his Afghan colleague and a British soldier were killed.
Cameron praised the efforts of soldiers involved in the rescue mission.
“General Petraeus ... and U.S. forces did everything in their power to bring Linda home safely. We should remember that Linda was being held at a remote location high in the mountains. This was a very difficult operation,” he said.
Ultimately the responsibility for Linda’s death lies with those who took her hostage.”
Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Matt Falloon; Editing by Mark Heinrich