The Times had two stories, here and here, last night on the rescue of Stephen Farrell, journalist for the New York Times and the deaths of his translator, a member of the UK Special Forces and two Afghan Civilians.
Both articles make but a passing mention of the sad deaths, but look more at how we can apportion “blame” for the rescue. The Times also mentions that the Taliban were also on the receiving end of a large hit as it says:
A Taleban commander said that 48 of his men were killed in the raid, in which at least one civilian also died.
The Times tells us in the headlines of the first article that Gordon Brown ordered the raid when in fact as they immediately say in the article:
Gordon Brown approved a mission to rescue the British journalist Stephen Farrell in which a member of the Special Forces was killed this morning, The Times has learnt.
In other words he rubber stamped a decision that had already been made by local commanders. It is unlikely that Gordon Brown or his ministers would veto a decision like this which would have been presented to them by senior commanders. Given the reported deaths of 48 Taliban it seems like the mission must have had considerable risks.
According to the first article Mr Farrell had travelled to the area despite warnings that it could be dangerous:
Police had warned reporters who travelled to the capital of Kunduz that the village in question was controlled by the Taleban and it would be dangerous to go there.
Whether or not it was a good idea to travel to the area is a mute point but we as the public are always demanding on the spot reporting so we must take some blame for the fact Mr Farrell was in a danger area.
According to the first article in the Times:
Efforts had been under way to negotiate both men’s release. Moen Marastial, an MP from the province, said: “We held a shura [council] on Sunday with 250 people to discuss the kidnapping and we asked people with links to the Taleban to send them a message.
“The men who kidnapped the journalists handed them over to a senior commander called Mullah Salaam. He sent us a message saying the men would be released, but that he was waiting for an order from his bosses. The deadline was yesterday.”
I assume that this information would have been available before the raid was ordered and that the likely outcome of the negotiations had been factored into the raid risks.
The second article in the Times, here, expresses shock by the negotiators (It doesn’t say who these “negotiators” are)
Hostage negotiators expressed shock and anger at Gordon Brown’s decision to approve a commando raid to free a kidnapped British journalist, saying that they were within days of securing his release through peaceful means.
According to the Times article there were no guarantees that a negotiated deal would have led to Mr Farrell’s release and that there were fears he could be moved. However, several sources in Kabul said that the captors were, at worst, seeking a ransom. A Western Official is quoted as saying
“It was totally heavy-handed. If they’d showed a bit of patience and respect they could have got both of them out without firing a bullet. Instead, they ended up having one of their own killed, the Afghan killed and civilians killed. There’s a lot of p****d-off people at the moment.”
Again no names are mentioned. The Times also goes onto say the Interior Minister had persuaded 300 local elders to intercede with the kidnappers, saying that the hostages were just journalists doing their job. Mr Mudani’s uncle had apparently also established communications with the provincial Taleban commander. An Afghan who spoke with the local commander said: “I think we could have got them out peacefully, maybe in a few days.”
UPDATE: According to the NY Times the Taliban were about to move their hostages:
Britain ordered a predawn commando raid in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday to rescue a British reporter for The New York Times and his Afghan interpreter after Afghan agents learned that the Taliban was planning to move the hostages into Pakistan, a senior Afghan official said Wednesday.
A senior Afghan official and Mr. Farrell described a situation where after two days in captivity, the hostages’ situation turned more menacing. They said it seemed likely that Taliban leaders from outside the immediate district in Kunduz Province were planning to move the captives across the border into neighboring Pakistan, largely outside the reach of NATO forces.
While Mr. Farrell said he was treated well — given food, water and blankets and never harmed — the militants increasingly taunted Mr. Munadi. At one point one of the Taliban reminded Mr. Munadi of a case two years ago in which an Italian journalist taken hostage in Helmand Province was freed while his Afghan translator was beheaded.
“I did not think they were going to kill me,” Mr. Farrell said Wednesday in a telephone interview from the British Embassy in Kabul. “I did think they were going to kill him.”
Update 2: AP is reporting that the newly formed Media Club of Afghanistan has this say:
The newly formed Media Club of Afghanistan — a group of Afghan reporters who work with international news outlets — also condemned the Taliban for abducting both men last week in northern Afghanistan as they investigated reports of civilian deaths in a German-ordered airstrike.
Local journalists laid flowers Thursday at the grave of reporter and translator Sultan Munadi in Kabul. Munadi, 34, was killed by gunfire during a British commando raid Wednesday to free him and New York Times writer Stephen Farrell.
At Thursday’s ceremony, the group issued a statement holding international forces responsible for launching a military operation to free the journalists without exhausting nonviolent channels.
The statement also said it was “inhumane” for the British forces to rescue Farrell, who has dual British-Irish nationality, and also retrieve the body of the commando killed in the raid while leaving behind Munadi’s body.
Fazul Rahim, an Afghan producer for CBS News, said the foreign forces’ actions showed a lack of respect.
“It shows a double standard between a foreign life and an Afghan life,” he said.
Munadi’s body was retrieved Wednesday afternoon through intermediaries and brought to Kabul.
It’s difficult to guess from here what the correct decision was and how much intelligence the commanders on the ground were getting and how accurate it was, but with the large number of Taliban reported killed in the operation you have to think this may have been a risky decision. It is also difficult to say whether or not they should have retrieved Mr Munadi’s body and this may have depended upon the danger it would have presented.
Update: From the NY Times article it appears they may have had clear intelligence of a likely move or danger to Mr Munadi.
Perhaps it was still part of our “cracking on” attitude that made us go in, perhaps we had intelligence that suggested he was to be moved or worse, we are unlikely to know for a while.
In the meantime we also have to think whether or not is was a good idea to even think about rescuing the Mr Farrell, he had been told it was a dodgy area and we have to think he ignored the don’t travel advice. As the Dundee Wifey Subrosa says:
Should our military be used to rescue journalists who wander into life-threatening situations in an effort to create some authenticity to their reporting?
To quote Richard North again: ‘Small recognition will be given to the member of the special forces who died for his freedom, the man, as is the convention, will not even be named.’ The American press
don’t even acknowledge the commando was British.
Our SAS troops are perhaps the best in the world. To use them to rescue a journalist who gets himself into a predicament, which he should have perhaps foreseen, is questionable.
It’s a question that needs balance against the demand and indeed requirement for accurate and not “censored” reporting that we often see from Afghanistan.
We also need to remember that we can’t keep giving the Taliban victories such as the Kunduz tanker affair and journalists being kidnapped in what should, we have been led to believe, be one of the safer parts of Afghanistan, if there are any now. The reports of bombing in Kabul, bombs at Camp Bastion and the attacks in other cities make me to believe that the Taliban are starting a new “front” in their battle and that they are gaining in confidence across the whole of Afghanistan.
Negotiators shocked by special forces rescue raid on Taleban – Times Online.