Death of Linda Norgrove
On 26 September 2010 Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove and three of her Afghan colleagues were kidnapped by members of the Taliban in the Kunar Province, in eastern Afghanistan. At the time she had been working in the country as regional director for an international development company. Following their capture the group was taken to the nearby Dewegal Valley area. United States and Afghan forces began to conduct search operations in the area, including road blocks to prevent the group from being moved east into Pakistan.
Norgrove's captors demanded the release of Afia Siddiqui in exchange for her return. During the negotiations, on 3 October 2010, the Taliban released her three Afghan colleagues. Five days later, following concerns that Norgrove would be killed or moved by her kidnappers, the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group conducted a pre-dawn rescue attempt on the Taliban mountain hideout where she was being held captive. US forces killed several of the kidnappers as well as three local farmers in the assault. They subsequently located Norgrove in a nearby gully; she was badly wounded and later died from her injuries.
Initial reports suggested that Norgrove had been killed by one of her captors detonating an explosive belt. However, a joint official investigation by the United Kingdom and United States concluded Norgrove's death resulted from a grenade thrown by the rescue team. A coroner's narrative verdict from February 2011 stated that Norgrove had died during the failed rescue attempt.
Norgrove was born in Altnaharra, Scotland, in 1974 to John and Lorna Norgrove. She spent her childhood on a croft on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles, attending a primary school in Uig. She later attended the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway. From 1992 Norgrove studied at the University of Aberdeen, gaining a first-class honours degree in tropical environmental science; her coursework involved postgraduate research at the University of Chiapas in Mexico, and a year of study at the University of Oregon (1993–94). She attended the University of London in 1996 and 1997, graduating with distinction in a masters degree in rural resources and environmental policy.
In 2002, Norgrove was awarded a PhD from the University of Manchester in development policy and management. From 2002 to 2005 she worked for the World Wide Fund in Peru, initially supporting and later taking charge of the WWF's Forest Program in the Peruvian portion of the Northern Andes. At the time of her death, Norgrove was working towards completing an MBA at the University of Warwick through distance learning, in addition to her aid work.
Norgrove worked in countries including Afghanistan (first for the United Nations, in 2005–08, and later as regional director of an international development company, based in Jalalabad, from February 2010), Laos (as an environmental specialist for the U.N. from 2008–09), Mexico, and Uganda (where she researched how national park management affected the indigenous population around Mount Elgon National Park).
On 26 September 2010, Norgrove and three Afghan colleagues were travelling in the Chawkay (aka Tsawkay, Sawkay) district of the eastern Kunar Province when they were kidnapped by local insurgents. They were ambushed whilst driving, in a convoy of two unarmored and unmarked Toyota Corollas, along the main highway from Jalalabad to Asadabad in the Dewagal valley A U.S. military convoy had been ambushed two months prior on the same stretch of road. Norgrove was wearing a burqa, in an effort to conceal the fact that she was a foreigner.
A local farmer saw Norgrove being led into the hills by six to eight men, armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. She was dressed in men's clothing by her captors, and taken into the mountains. After her capture Norgrove was taken into the Dewegal Valley; a valley in the Chowkai District which intersects with the Korengal Valley. Elements of the US Army (Bravo Company, 2/327 Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division) began a 12 day search, supported by Afghan Army, Police and Commando units, under the codename "Enterprise". A house to house search was conducted and roadblocks created at the valley entrance, to prevent her captors transferring Norgrove eastward, into Pakistan. The difficult terrain and lack of roads complicated and slowed this process, however the search efforts did succeed in containing the kidnappers in the vicinity and several local Taliban members were killed.
Negotiation with captors
It was unclear, at first, who had kidnapped Norgrove and her colleagues. One Taliban Commander, Pakistan-based Mohammed Osman, was reported to be demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui in return for Norgrove's freedom. Siddiqui, called "Lady al-Qaeda", had been sentenced to an 86 year jail term in the U.S. on 26 September. The Telegraph reported that Osman told the Afghan Islamic Press (a local organisation with Taliban links):
We are lucky that we abducted this British woman soon after the ruthless ruling by an American court on Aafia Siddiqui. We will demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui in exchange for her.— Mohammed Osman
However, other Afghan sources denied any link to Osman. U.S. military sources identified Norgrove's captors as Kunar Taliban and British Foreign Secretary William Hague said they were from a local Salafist group (an extreme form of Islam) allied to the local Taliban. An Afghan intelligence official later identified her captors as local commanders Mullah Basir and Mullah Keftan. Negotiations for Norgrove's release were conducted via local tribal elders.
The three Afghans captured with Norgrove were released on 3 October. Around this time security forces became concerned that Norgrove was about to be taken over the nearby border into Pakistan. British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the great fear was that she "was going to be passed up the terrorist chain, which would increase further the already high risk that she would be killed". The British foreign office asked the media not to release details of Norgrove's personal life while she was being held captive so as to avoid giving "trophy value" to her kidnapping.
Rescue attempt and death
Intelligence indicated that one group of local elders were calling for Norgrove to be executed "like the Russian" (possibly a reference to the Russian war in Afghanistan). There were also concerns that she might be moved across the Pakistan border, around 10 miles from where she was being held, into the tribal areas of North Waziristan. The intelligence prompted British Prime Minister Cameron and William Hague to approve a United States special operations effort to rescue Norgrove on her 13th night of captivity. The operation was spearheaded by Navy SEALs, from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group; a unit often referred to as "SEAL Team Six" that is used for high-risk counter-terrorist operations.
The SEALs staged a pre-dawn raid on the Taliban hillside compound hideout, where Norgrove was being held in a mud and timber shack, on 8 October 2010. The stronghold was surrounded by 16 foot (4.9 m) high, 2 foot (0.61 m) thick, perimeter walls in a densely wooded area. It was located in the village of Dineshgal, 7,000 feet (2,100 m) up a steep-sided mountain in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province.
At approximately 3:30 AM, in darkness, 24 SEALs and around 20 U.S. Army Rangers, 75th Ranger Regiment, wearing night-vision goggles approached the compound, fast roping from two CH-47 Chinook helicopters. They were fired upon from within the compound and from a nearby overwatch position by Taliban armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and suicide vests. Two American snipers on board a helicopter killed two guards, using sound suppressed rifles. An AC-130 Spectre gunship provided the US troops on the ground with close air support, and killed two fleeing Taliban. The Rangers secured fire bases on the surrounding hillside. All six Taliban gunmen who fought the U.S. force were killed in the prolonged firefight.
During the gunfight Norgrove's captors dragged her outside the building where she was being held. However, she appears to have broken away from them. Video footage of the raid showed an explosion in her vicinity; Norgrove was then found lying injured, in a fetal position, in a gully.
Norgrove received emergency medical treatment and was evacuated by helicopter, but died from her injuries. It was initially reported that she had been killed by one of her captors detonating a suicide vest during the rescue attempt. According to The Guardian it is not unusual for insurgents to put on suicide vests if there is a risk of attack. Taliban commanders Mullah Basir and Mullah Keftan, who were holding her, were among those killed in the raid, according to an Afghan intelligence official. Other women and children in the compound were not injured, and no members of the rescue team were wounded.
The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, announced Norgrove's death. In a written statement he said that after receiving information on her location it was "decided that, given the danger she was facing, her best chance of safe release was to act on that information." In a statement to defend the rescue attempt, Prime Minister 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."
On 10 October, an unnamed Afghan intelligence officer said Norgrove had been killed by a grenade that had been thrown by her captors. The following day, Prime Minister Cameron told media that new information indicated Norgrove may have been killed accidentally by a U.S. grenade. In an interview, the Prime Minister said "Linda could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault. However, this is not definite." A U.S. military statement said "Subsequent review of surveillance footage and discussions with members of the rescue team do not conclusively determine the cause of her death".
U.S. President Barack Obama promised "to get to the bottom" of the failed rescue attempt. General David Petraeus, commander of the NATO security force in Afghanistan, ordered an investigation into the incident. U.S. Major General Joseph Votel (Chief of Staff of U.S. Special Operations Command with experience in U.S. special operations) and British Brigadier Rob Nitsch (the Head of Joint Force Support, UK Forces Afghanistan) were appointed to lead a joint UK and US investigation. Norgrove's family was kept informed of the results of the investigation. It was reported on 12 October that the results were expected within days.
Whilst the military investigation was conducted Norgrove's body was repatriated to the United Kingdom; arriving on 14 October, via a Royal Air Force flight, at RAF Lyneham. A humanist funeral ceremony, attended by hundreds of people, was held on 26 October at the Uig Community Centre in the Western Isles. Norgrove's body was interred at Ardroil cemetery.
On 2 December, the results of the joint investigation were announced by Hague. The probe concluded that Norgrove had been accidentally killed by a grenade thrown by a U.S soldier. Hague said to the House of Commons: "A grenade was thrown by a member of the rescue team who feared for his own life and those of his team towards a gully from where some of the insurgents had emerged. When the grenade was thrown no member of the team had seen, or heard, Linda Norgrove." Navy SEAL sailors did not immediately notify senior officers about throwing the grenade, in breach of military law. As a result, a number of sailors were disciplined.
A post-mortem examination of Norgrove's body was conducted by British coroner Pathologist Doctor Russell Delaney on 19 October 2010. Detective Chief Inspector Colin Smith of the Metropolitan Police told an inquest, opened 22 October in Salisbury coroner's court, that the examination identified the cause of death as "penetrating fragment injuries to the head and chest." In February 2011 the coroner recorded a "narrative verdict". In it he confirmed the findings of the earlier military investigations that Norgrove had been killed by one of the US rescue team. He also noted that a gunshot wound to the leg that Norgove received during the rescue had not contributed to her death.
A regional director for Development Alternatives, the company Norgrove worked for at the time of her kidnap, released a statement saying:
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.—James Boomgard
Robert Watkins, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, praised Norgrove in a statement, saying; "She was a true advocate for the people of Afghanistan and was dedicated to bringing improvements to their lives", and that "her spirit and compassion will be greatly missed". The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, said "Ms. Norgrove was a dedicated aid worker who was doing everything she could to help people in Afghanistan—hopefully that legacy of service in a humanitarian cause can be of some comfort to her loved ones in their time of grief".
Norgrove was posthumously awarded the 2011 Robert Burns Humanitarian Award for her work in Afghanistan. Her family has set up a charitable foundation, The Linda Norgrove Foundation, to continue her relief work.
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