LONDON // US Gen David Petraeus ordered an investigation yesterday into the death of a British aid worker killed during a rescue bid by US forces.
The aid worker, Linda Norgrove, 36, died during a failed US rescue operation on Friday, nearly two weeks after she was abducted with three Afghan colleagues in eastern Afghanistan.
Gen Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, ordered the probe after he received new information from the commander in charge of the rescue, according to the US military in Kabul.
"Initial reports indicated the explosion was caused by a detonation triggered by one of the captors who was in close proximity to Linda Norgrove. Subsequent review of surveillance footage and discussions with members of the rescue team do not conclusively determine the cause of her death," it said.
Before the military announcement yesterday, David Cameron, the British prime minister, told reporters in London that Norgrove was probably killed by a US grenade.
Mr Cameron said new information indicated she had been killed by a US grenade in what he described as a "deeply distressing development". He said it was "deeply regrettable" that the initial information on how Norgrove had died now seems "highly likely to have been incorrect". He added: "The statements were made in good faith and on the basis of the information that we received." Mr Cameron said that although the cause of death was still not absolutely certain, a review of the attempted rescue by Gen Petraeus had revealed that Norgrove was probably the victim of a grenade.
Although local tribal elders were in negotiation with her captors, the US and UK agreed that a rescue operation should be attempted after intelligence reports suggested that Norgrove was about to be moved across the border into Pakistan. Mr Cameron said that despite the latest developments, he still supported the decision of the foreign secretary, William Hague, to approve the rescue mission because Norgrove's life had been in "grave danger" from the moment she was seized.
He said there were concerns that she might be passed up the militants' chain and put at even greater peril. "I am clear that the best chance of saving Linda's life was to go ahead, recognising that any operation was fraught with risk for all those involved and success was by no means guaranteed. "I am deeply sorry and distressed that it has not worked out in the way we all wanted it to work out, but you have to take a decision and I think the decision was the right one," Mr Cameron said.
A joint British-US inquiry was under way to determine what had happened during the rescue attempt, in which eight Taliban also died, he said. After informing Norgrove's father, John, of the latest development yesterday, Mr Cameron said: "My thoughts and the thoughts of the whole country are with them, as they come to terms with the death of their daughter and this deeply distressing development." Mr Norgrove, who lives on the Isle of Lewis in the north-west of Scotland, declined to answer reporters' questions later. "We are not saying anything to the press at the moment," he said. "We might issue a statement in another day or two - we're not certain, but now we are not saying anything."
His daughter was a former UN employee who was working for Development Alternatives Inc (DAI) at the time of her kidnapping. Based in Jalalabad, she supervised reconstruction programmes in the eastern region of Afghanistan paid for by the US government. "I want to assure Mr and Mrs Norgrove that I will do everything I possibly can to establish the full facts and give them certainty about how their daughter died," Mr Cameron said. "None of us can understand just how painful this must be for Linda's family."