British aid worker Norgrove killed accidentally by U.S. soldier, inquiry finds

Continued photo coverage from the front lines of the military effort in Afghanistan.
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 3, 2010; 12:31 AM

LONDON - U.S. soldiers have been disciplined for not disclosing details of an explosion that killed a British aid worker in Afghanistan in October, British and U.S. officials said Thursday, after the release of the results of a joint investigation into the woman's death.

According to the report, Linda Norgrove was accidentally killed by a U.S. soldier during an attempt to rescue her. The 36-year-old aid worker, who had been taken hostage Sept. 26 while traveling through a remote area of eastern Afghanistan, was initially thought to have died at the hands of her captors during the Oct. 8 rescue mission. But U.S. officials, upon reviewing a videotape of the incident, concluded days later that a grenade thrown by one of her American rescuers may have been responsible and launched an investigation.

On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said investigators had concluded that Norgrove had died of injuries caused by a grenade. Speaking in Parliament, he said U.S. soldiers had been disciplined for not reporting details of the grenade explosion immediately after the failed mission.

"Members of the rescue team have been disciplined for failing to provide a complete and full account of their actions in accordance with U.S. military procedure," Hague said.

He described the team as coming under heavy fire soon after their helicopters landed on a dark mountainside. In the heat of the fighting, Hague said, "a grenade was thrown by a member of the rescue team who feared for his own life and those of the team towards a gully from which some of the insurgents had emerged."

Hague said the rescue team did not realize Norgrove had been killed until the area was searched later.

U.S. Central Command, the military command with responsibilities that include the Afghanistan war, released a statement saying it "sincerely regrets the loss of life that resulted from this terrible incident, and we extend our deepest condolences to the Norgrove family for their tragic loss."

"Although Ms. Norgrove's death is a terrible tragedy, the insurgents who kidnapped her bear the ultimate responsibility for her death," the statement said.

Lt. Cmdr. William H. Speaks, a Centcom spokesman, said in an e-mail: "Non-judicial punishment was given to three service members for failing to fully disclose information related to actions in the rescue operation."

Norgrove, who had spent several years in Afghanistan, worked with DAI, a Bethesda-based contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Working out of the eastern city of Jalalabad with a staff of about 200 Afghans, Norgrove was regional director of a $150 million development project to build roads and bridges and improve agriculture. She was kidnapped while traveling through Konar province with three Afghan colleagues to visit an irrigation project. She was driving in an unarmored car without a security guard and was accosted on the road by men in Afghan army uniforms.

Hague had said earlier that the men were Salafists, who subscribe to a strict interpretation of Islam and are allied with Taliban groups in Konar. Worried that Norgrove would be passed to other and possibly even more militant insurgent factions in more inaccessible locations in Pakistan, Hague said he authorized a rescue attempt, if the circumstances were right. Hague reiterated Thursday that a rescue attempt was the right thing to do.

Staff writer Craig Whitlock in Washington contributed to this report.

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