Recrimination over a bloody raid that freed a New York Times reporter from Taliban captors in Afghanistan deepened on Friday with both Britain’s government and the newspaper defending their actions.
British-Irish journalist Stephen Farrell escaped unharmed in Wednesday’s dramatic commando operation, but his Afghan colleague Sultan Munadi was killed in the crossfire along with a British soldier, and an Afghan woman and child.
Munadi’s brother said negotiators were on the brink of winning their release and slammed the raid as “thoughtless” despite insistence from British Foreign Secretary David Miliband that it was the only way to secure their freedom.
“There was no need for this operation at all,” Munadi’s brother Mohammad Osman told AFP.
“The ICRC (the International Committee of the Red Cross), the United Nations, tribal elders were all involved in optimistic negotiations for their release, when all of sudden this raid took place,” he added.
“This was a totally thoughtless raid resulting in the martyrdom of Sultan.”
Colleagues of Munadi are outraged that his bullet-riddled body was abandoned at the scene and hundreds of mourners attended a prayer ceremony at a Kabul mosque to pay their respects to the reporter on Friday.
His photo sat in a wreath of flowers, where a sign read: “We want an explanation for the killing of young journalist Sultan Ahmad Munadi.”
Farrell and Munadi were snatched last Saturday in the northern province of Kunduz as they interviewed residents about a NATO air strike that Afghan officials say killed and wounded civilians.
Miliband told the BBC that Farrell had ignored “very strong” advice not to travel to the region where he was seized.
“This was an operation that only took place because we thought there was no better alternative and it only took place after very considered military judgement that it was a mission with the possibility of success,” he said.
Miliband refused to confirm that talks were well advanced with the Taliban, and rebuffed calls for an inquiry into the decision to order the raid, telling the BBC: “all the right procedures were followed.”
Munadi’s father Karban Mohammed said he telephoned 90 minutes before he was shot to say he was confident they would soon be freed.
“Sultan was sure of that. My son’s words brought me so much happiness I felt maybe I could sleep for the first time in many nights,” Mohammed told Britain’s Independent newspaper. “Yes, I feel very angry about what happened.”
Reaction to Farrell’s release mirrored anger that many Afghans expressed over the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist in 2007. His interpreter was beheaded and his driver killed.
“I cannot blame one particular person for this,” said Munadi’s brother.
“It is everyone — the government, the New York Times, Taliban and finally the main responsibility for his death lies with British forces who launched this unnecessary operation.”
New York Times executive editor Bill Keller hit back at “simplistic” criticism that the reckless pursuit of news by Farrell caused the kidnapping.
“That Sultan and the soldier lost their lives in this episode is heartbreaking, and it’s human nature to look for someone to blame, but to blame the journalist is simplistic at best,” Keller said in an email to AFP.
“Steve consulted with American and Afghan colleagues and, like other journalists who made the same trip, concluded that it could be done safely.
Farrell and Munadi were the second New York Times team kidnapped in Afghanistan in less than a year, and come as Taliban-linked attacks are intensifying in northern Afghanistan.