Journalist could have been freed without violence, government told

By staff writers
September 11, 2009

British ministers been forced on the defensive following accusations of fatal errors in the rescue of a New York Times journalist in Afghanistan. Afghan journalists, along with the family of an Afghan translator killed during the rescue, say that negotiations were close to achieving the freedom of the captives without violence.

Stephen Farrell, who has joint UK and Irish citizenship, was freed when British troops raided the building where he was being held. His translator, Sultan Munadi, was killed in the incident, along with a British soldier. Two civilians are also reported to have died.

Suggestions are building up that the violence was unnecessary. A number of Afghan journalists have suggested negotiations for release were progressing well. The Red Cross says it was involved in discussions with “different parties”. There are also reports that the kidnappers were close to accepting a relatively small ransom payment.

But the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has insisted that he and his colleagues looked at all the options.

“We came to the conclusion that the only way in which we could secure the successful release of both hostages was through the military action that was taken” Miliband told BBC's Newsnight programme.

This has not stopped suggestions that the UK government and army took a gung-ho attitude and assumed that only violence could work. Afghan commentators have also suggested that a higher value was placed on British lives than on Afghan lives.

Sultan Munadi's father, Karban Mohammed, told the Independent that the kidnappers had allowed his son to phone him less than two hours before he was killed. He said that they were close to being released.

“Why did the military not wait for the talks?” Mohammed asked, “It is not just my son who died, there were others, a young British soldier I am told. His parents must be feeling very sad as well”.

Mohammed said that “We would just like an explanation. We deserve an explanation”.

Farrell and Munadi were captured while investigating allegations that a US air strike had killed over 90 civilians. Farrell praised both his rescuers and Sultan Munadi. “He had died trying to help me,” he said, “right up to the very last seconds of his life”.

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