Death of Linda Norgrove

Aid worker Linda Norgrove, North East Afghanistan

Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker, and three Afghan colleagues were kidnapped by members of the Taliban in Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan, on 26 September 2010. The three kidnapped Afghan aid workers were released by the Taliban on 3 October 2010 while negotiations over Norgrove's release were ongoing. After concerns that Norgrove would be killed or moved by her captors, The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), commonly known as DEVGRU and informally by its former name SEAL Team Six (ST6) conducted a pre-dawn rescue attempt on a Taliban mountain hideout on 8 October 2010 during which she was killed.

A joint official investigation by United Kingdom and United States concluded that Norgrove had died from a grenade thrown by one of the rescuers. A coroner's narrative verdict was recorded in February 2011 that stated Norgrove had died during a failed rescue attempt

Contents

Linda Norgrove

Norgrove was born in Altnaharra, Sutherland, 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.[1] She later attended the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway.[2]

Norgrove studied at the University of Aberdeen beginning in 1992, from which she gained 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).[3][4] She attended the University of London in 1996 and 1997, graduating with distinction in a masters degree in rural resources and environmental policy.[5]

In 2002, Norgrove was awarded a PhD from the University of Manchester in development policy and management.[6][7][8] 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.[9] 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.[10][11]

Norgrove worked in countries including Afghanistan (first for the United Nations, in 2005–08, and later as regional director of an international development consultancy firm, based in Jalalabad[11][12][13][14], 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).[15][16]

Kidnapping of aid workers

Map showing Kunar Province, Afghanistan

On 26 September 2010, Norgrove and three Afghan colleagues were kidnapped in the Chawkay (aka Tsawkay, Sawkay) district of the eastern Kunar Province. They were ambushed by members of the Taliban on the main highway from Jalalabad to Asadabad in the Dewagal valley.[17][18][19] They were forced off the road while traveling in a convoy of two unarmored, unmarked Toyota Corollas.[20][21] A U.S. military convoy had been ambushed two months prior on the same stretch of road.[22] Norgrove was wearing a burqa, in an effort to conceal the fact that she was a foreigner.[23]

A local farmer saw Norgrove being led into the hills by six to eight men, armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.[23] She was dressed in men's clothing by her captors, and taken into the mountains.[19]

The three kidnapped Afghan aid workers were released by the Taliban on 3 October.[24][25] At that point, the security forces became concerned that Norgrove was about to be taken over the nearby border into Pakistan.[26] 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".[27][dead link] 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.[28]

Negotiation with captors

Within 24 hours of the kidnapping, contact was made with a group claiming responsibility.[29] Norgrove was being held by two Taliban commanders, Mullah Basir and Mullah Keftan, an Afghan intelligence official said later.[30] U.S. military sources identified her 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 Kunar Taliban, which had links up the Taliban chain of command to al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups operating on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.[31][32]

Mohammed Osman and other Taliban commanders reportedly insisted Norgrove would be handed over only in exchange for Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui, called "Lady al-Qaeda", who had been sentenced to jail for 86 years in the U.S. on 23 September 2010 for the attempted murder of U.S. agents and soldiers in Afghanistan.[28][33][34][35] One of those reporting the effort to swap Norgrove for Siddiqui was a local news organization, the Afghan Islamic Press, which The Wall Street Journal indicated has links to the Taliban.[36] The Telegraph reported that Osman told the Afghan Islamic Press: “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.”[37]

Rescue attempt and death

Initially, Linda Norgrove was taken into the Dewegal Valley within the Chowkai District by her captors. The Dewegal Valley intersects with the Korengal Valley. An intense 12 day search was conducted under the operation name of "Enterprise". Bravo Company, 2/327 Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division was the primary element in the search, assisted, supported and complemented by other U.S. Forces as well as Afghan Army, Police and Commando elements. To prevent her transfer east into Pakistan, blocking positions of the only roadway in and out of the Dewegal Valley were established while a house to house search within the vast valley were conducted. The difficult terrain and lack of roadways complicated and slowed the search, however the search efforts did result in the failure of her captors to move her from the area.

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).[38][39] 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.[40] 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 (also known as Navy SEAL Team 6), a unit used for high-risk counter-terrorist operations.[41][42]

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.[38][43] 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.[44]

At approximately 3:30 AM, in darkness, 24 Navy sailors 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.[40][38][45][46] Two American snipers on board a helicopter killed two guards, using sound suppressed rifles.[38] An AC-130 Spectre gunship provided the US troops on the ground with close air support, and killed two fleeing Taliban.[47][48] The Rangers secured fire bases on the surrounding hillside.[38] All six Taliban gunmen who fought the U.S. force were killed in the prolonged firefight.[39][44][46]

Norgrove was injured within the proximity of the US sailors who had reached the building where she was held.[49] During the gunfight Norgrove had been dragged out of the building where she was kept, but had broken away and was lying in a fetal position. Video footage of the raid showed an explosion in her vicinity.[39] Following the operation she was found injured in a gully.[50]

Norgrove received emergency medical treatment and was evacuated by helicopter, but died from her injuries.[44] It was initially reported that she had been killed by one of her captors detonating a suicide vest during the rescue attempt.[51][39][45] According to The Guardian it is not unusual for insurgents to put on suicide vests if there is a risk of attack.[39] Taliban commanders Mullah Basir and Mullah Keftan, who were holding her, were among those killed in the raid, according to an Afghan intelligence official.[30] Other women and children in the compound were not injured, and no members of the rescue team were wounded.[46] On 14 October, Norgrove's body was repatriated to the United Kingdom, arriving at RAF Lyneham on a Royal Air Force flight.[52] Norgrove's funeral was held on 26 October at the Uig Community Centre in the Western Isles. The humanist service was attended by hundreds of people. Norgrove's body was interred at Ardroil cemetery.[53][54]

Joint investigation

Major General Joseph Votel, who led the investigation.

On 10 October, an unnamed Afghan intelligence officer said Norgrove had been killed by a grenade that had been thrown by her captors.[55][56] The following day, Prime Minister Cameron told media that new information indicated Norgrove may have been killed accidentally by a U.S. grenade.[18] 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."[57] 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".[18][51]

U.S. President Barack Obama promised "to get to the bottom" of the failed rescue attempt[58] and General David Petraeus ordered an investigation into the incident. A joint investigation by the United Kingdom and United States was led by U.S. Major General Joseph Votel (Chief of Staff of U.S. Special Operations Command, who has extensive U.S. special operations experience) and British Brigadier Rob Nitsch (the Head of Joint Force Support, UK Forces Afghanistan).[59][60][61][62][63] Norgrove's family was kept informed of the results of the investigation.[64][65] It was reported on 12 October that the results were expected within days.[66]

At the inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire it was determined that a bullet wound to her leg, also sustained during the rescue, was not a contributory factor in her death. Detective Chief Inspector Colin Smith of the Metropolitan Police said during the opening of an inquest at the coroner's court in Salisbury, Wiltshire, South West England, that a 19 October post-mortem examination by British coroner Pathologist Doctor Russell Delaney on Norgrove's body indicated that she died of "penetrating fragment injuries to the head and chest".[43][67][68][69]

On 2 December, the results of the joint investigation were announced by British Foreign Secretary William 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."[56] Navy SEAL sailors did not immediately notify senior officers about the grenade, in breach of military law.[56] As a result, a number of sailors were disciplined.[56]

Reactions

In a statement David Cameron said:

My thoughts are with Linda's family, who will be devastated by this tragic news. She was doing valuable work for the Afghan people ... 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.[55]

William Hague announced her death and said that they had "failed to rescue Linda". He added in a written statement: "after receiving information on where she was held it was decided that, given the danger she was facing, her best chance of safe release was to act on that information.”[70]

A regional director of Development Alternatives, an international consulting firm, for whom Norgrove used to work said:

This is devastating news. 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.[71][72]

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Robert Watkins, praised Norgrove saying: "She was a true advocate for the people of Afghanistan and was dedicated to bringing improvements to their lives". He added, "Her spirit and compassion will be greatly missed".[73] The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, gave tribute to Norgrove, saying: "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".[26]

Linda Norgrove was posthumously awarded the 2011 Robert Burns Humanitarian Award for her work in Afghanistan. Her family has set up the Linda Norgrove Foundation, to continue her relief work.[74]

See also

References

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  2. ^ Island community mourns kidnapped aid worker BBC News. 9 October 2010.
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  67. ^ Burch, Jonathon (6 October 2010). "U.S. commander orders probe into UK Afghan aid worker's death". Reuters. http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE69A1YT20101011. Retrieved 11 October 2010. 
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  69. ^ Sarah Smith (24 October 2010). "Foundation for Linda". Herald Scotland. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/foundation-for-linda-1.1063291. Retrieved 24 October 2010. 
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