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Raid to free reporters in Afghanistan second guessed

A negotiated release was possible says Red Cross, but released New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell said the conditions of their captivity were growing "menacing."

By Staff writer / September 9, 2009



The British commando raid in Afghanistan Wednesday ended in the death of New York Times translator Sultan Munadi and an as yet unnamed British soldier – and freedom for kidnapped Times reporter Stephen Farrell.

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But the raid is attracting criticism. The International Committee of the Red Cross and others are suggesting that winning Mr. Farrell and Mr. Munadi's freedom could have been achieved without the loss of life. And some in Britain are saying that soldiers should not have been put in harm's way to free the journalists.

British-Irish journalist Farrell and Munadi, an Afghan national freelancing for the Times while on vacation from a masters program in Germany, were kidnapped Saturday outside the Northern Afghan city of Kunduz. They were reporting about a German-ordered air strike last week that killed about 70 people, at least some of them civilians. That attack on two hijacked fuel trucks has stirred public anger in Afghanistan and fueled criticism of the ongoing NATO war effort in Europe.

The two reporters had first visited the city of Kunduz, where they talked to survivors in the local hospital, and then went to the village where the airstrike took place, despite warnings that the area was under Taliban control and likely dangerous, the Washington Post reported.

After a short time on the scene, Taliban gunmen arrived and seized the men. The New York Times did not report on the abduction and most of the world's media followed suit, as they did during the hostage ordeal of David Rohde, who was held by the Taliban in Pakistan for seven months until his freedom in June.

Time Magazine reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross was in negotiations with the hostage takers, led by a low-level Taliban commander known for banditry, as well as with "sympathetic local Afghans and tribal elders with ties to the Taliban." Time said the Red Cross was "optimistic" that the men would soon be released without a ransom payment and that negotiators felt Taliban commanders in Kunduz were "acting reasonably."

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