Death of Linda Norgrove
On 26 September 2010, Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove and three Afghan colleagues were kidnapped by members of the Taliban in the Kunar Province of eastern Afghanistan. At the time, she was working in the country as regional director for an international development company. After their capture, the group was taken to the nearby Dewegal Valley area. United States and Afghan forces began a search of the area, placing roadblocks 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 negotiations, on 3 October 2010 the Taliban released the three Afghans. Five days later, amid concerns that Norgrove would be killed or moved by her kidnappers, the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group conducted a predawn rescue attempt on the Taliban mountain hideout where she was held captive. US forces killed several kidnappers and three local farmers in the assault. They subsequently located Norgrove, badly wounded, in a nearby gully; she later died from her injuries.
Initial reports suggested that Norgrove had been killed by one of her captors, who detonated an explosive belt. However, a joint official investigation by the United Kingdom and the United States concluded that Norgrove's fatal injuries were inflicted by a grenade thrown by a member of the rescue team. A February 2011 coroner's narrative verdict reported that Norgrove died during the failed rescue attempt. In October 2012, one of Norgrove's colleagues said in an interview that the captors told Norgrove they had no intention of killing her.
Early life, education and work
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. In 1992 Norgrove began studying at the University of Aberdeen, receiving a first-class honours degree in tropical environmental science; her coursework included 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, receiving a master's degree with distinction in rural resources and environmental policy.
In 2002, Norgrove received a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester in development policy and management. From 2002 to 2005 she worked for the World Wide Fund in Peru, supporting (and later supervising) the WWF's Forest Program in the Peruvian Andes. At the time of her death, Norgrove was working towards an MBA from the University of Warwick through distance learning in addition to her aid work. She worked in Afghanistan (for the United Nations from 2005 to 2008 and as regional director of an international development company based in Jalalabad beginning in February 2010), Laos (as an environmental specialist for the U.N. in 2008–09), Mexico and Uganda (where Norgrove researched the effects of national park management on the indigenous population near Mount Elgon National Park).
On 26 September 2010, Norgrove and three Afghan colleagues were travelling in the Chawkay (also known as Tsawkay and Sawkay) district of eastern Kunar Province when they were kidnapped by local insurgents. They were ambushed whilst driving on the main highway from Jalalabad to Asadabad, in the Dewagal valley, in a convoy of two unarmored, unmarked Toyota Corollas. A U.S. military convoy was ambushed two months earlier on the same stretch of road. Norgrove was wearing a burqa 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. Dressed in men's clothing by her captors, she was first taken into the mountains and then brought to the Dewegal Valley in Chowkai District (which crosses the Korengal Valley). U.S. Army troops from 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 posted at the valley entrance to prevent Norgrove's captors from transferring her eastward into Pakistan. The difficult terrain (with few roads) complicated and slowed the process; however, the search efforts succeeded in containing the kidnappers in the vicinity and several local Taliban members were killed.
It was unclear at first who kidnapped Norgrove and her colleagues. A Taliban commander, the Pakistan-based Mohammed Osman, was reported to demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui in return for Norgrove's freedom. Siddiqui, known as "Lady al-Qaeda", had received an 86-year prison sentence 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."
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 Salafist group affiliated with 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 through 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 across the nearby border into Pakistan. British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the primary 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 about Norgrove's personal life while she was in captivity to avoid attaching "trophy value" to her kidnapping.
Rescue attempt and death
Intelligence reports indicated that a group of local elders were calling for Norgrove to be executed "like the Russian" (a possible reference to the Russian war in Afghanistan). There were concerns that she might be moved across the Pakistan border—about 10 miles (16 km) 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 during her 13th night of captivity. The operation was spearheaded by Navy SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, a unit known as "SEAL Team Six" which is used for high-risk counter-terrorist operations.
The SEALs staged a predawn raid on the Taliban hillside compound hideout, where Norgrove was 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 in the village of Dineshgal, 7,000 feet (2,100 m) up a steep mountain in the Korengal Valley.
At approximately 3:30 am 24 SEALs and about 20 U.S. Army Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment (wearing night-vision goggles) approached the compound, fast roping from two CH-47 Chinook helicopters. They were fired on from the compound and from a nearby position by Taliban armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests. Two American snipers aboard a helicopter killed two guards using sound-suppressed rifles. An AC-130 Spectre gunship provided the U.S. troops on the ground with close air support, killing two fleeing Taliban. The Rangers secured fire bases on the surrounding hillside, and all six Taliban gunmen who fought the U.S. forces were killed in the prolonged firefight.
During the gunfight Norgrove's captors dragged her outside the building where she was being held, but she apparently broke away from them. Video footage of the raid showed an explosion in her vicinity; Norgrove was then found, injured, in a fetal position in a gully.
Norgrove received emergency medical treatment and was evacuated by helicopter, but she died from her injuries. It was initially reported that she was killed when one of her captors detonated a suicide vest during the rescue attempt. According to The Guardian, it is not unusual for insurgents to don suicide vests if there is a risk of attack. Taliban commanders Mullah Basir and Mullah Keftan (who were holding Norgrove) were among those killed in the raid, according to an Afghan intelligence official. Other women and children in the compound were uninjured, and no members of the rescue team were wounded.
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." Prime Minister Cameron defended the rescue attempt: "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 that Norgrove was killed by a grenade thrown by one of her captors. The following day, Cameron said that new information indicated Norgrove may have been killed accidentally by a U.S. grenade. The Prime Minister said in an interview, "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 read, "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 the U.S. Special Operations Command) and British Brigadier Rob Nitsch (Head of Joint Force Support, UK Forces Afghanistan) were appointed to lead a joint UK and U.S. investigation. It was reported on 12 October that the results were expected within days, and Norgrove's family was kept informed of the investigation's progress.
Whilst the military investigation was conducted, Norgrove's body was returned to the United Kingdom on 14 October on a Royal Air Force flight to 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 was buried at Ardroil cemetery.
On 2 December Hague announced the results of the joint investigation, which concluded that Norgrove was accidentally killed by a grenade thrown by a U.S soldier. Haguee 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 SEALs did not immediately notify senior officers about throwing the grenade; this breached military law, and a number of sailors were disciplined.
A post-mortem examination of Norgrove's body was conducted by British coroner Russell Delaney on 19 October 2010. Detective Chief Inspector Colin Smith of the Metropolitan Police told an inquest, opened 22 October in the 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 confirming the earlier military investigations' findings that Norgrove was killed by a member of the U.S. rescue team, noting that a gunshot wound to the leg Norgove received during the rescue did not contribute to her death. In October 2012 Abdul Wadood, Norgorove's colleague and fellow captive, told the BBC that she asked the kidnappers if they were going to kill her: "Linda asked the abductors when they were planning to kill her and then the abductors talked to her in a very soft language and they told her and assured her that she would not be killed, because that was not their purpose to kill her—all they wanted was to release some of their prisoners, in the end she would be released when this deed is done."
James Boomgard, regional director for Development Alternatives (the company for which Norgrove worked when she was kidnapped), released a statement: "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." United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Robert Watkins praised Norgrove: "She was a true advocate for the people of Afghanistan and was dedicated to bringing improvements to their lives", and "her spirit and compassion will be greatly missed". 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".
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