Kidnapped New York Times journalist freed in NATO raid

Troops rescued Stephen Farrell four days after he and his translator were abducted in Kunduz Province. But the translator, Sultan Munadi, was killed, and civilians may have died in the firefight.

In a pre-dawn commando-style raid on Wednesday, NATO-led forces in Afghanistan freed a New York Times reporter kidnapped by the Taliban. Stephen Farrell, a British national, was abducted four days ago in Kunduz Province along with his Afghan translator, after the pair went to investigate the controversial American airstrike that reportedly killed dozens of civilians. Mr. Farrell is reported to be safe, but his Afghan translator has died.

It is the second time this year that a New York Times reporter escaped captivity after being abducted by the Taliban. David Rohde, a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, was held by the Taliban for seven months after being taken along with his Afghan colleague in Logar Province last November. Mr. Rohde and his colleague, Tahir Ludin, managed to escape in June.

The New York Times initially suppressed news of Farrell’s abduction, just as it did with Rohde months earlier. (See Monitor story here.) But it published news of the raid on Wednesday, including details of possible civilian deaths:

Armed gunmen seized Mr. Farrell and his interpreter, Sultan Munadi, four days ago while they were working in a village south of Kunduz, reporting the aftermath of NATO airstrikes on Friday that exploded two fuel tankers hijacked by Taliban militants…
In a brief telephone call about 7:30 p.m. New York time on Tuesday, Mr. Farrell told Susan Chira, the foreign editor of The Times: “I’m out! I’m free!”
Ms. Chira said Mr. Farrell told her that he had been “extracted” by a commando raid carried out by “a lot of soldiers” in a fierce firefight with his captors. Mr. Farrell said he had also called his wife…

An Afghan journalist who spoke to villagers in the area said that civilians, including women and children, were also killed in the firefight to free the journalists. That report could not be independently verified, and details of the operation itself were sketchy.

The Times also reports that Mr. Munadi, Farrell’s translator, was killed during the rescue operation. Reuters adds:

Mohammad Nabi, a resident of the district, said Taliban fighters with the two captives had stayed at his house that night after demanding shelter. He said NATO forces arrived by helicopter and killed his sister-in-law during their raid.
The troops left with Farrell, but not the interpreter, whose body was found outside the house in the morning, Nabi told Reuters.”
It is not clear how the translator died.

Other details of the incident are still scarce – including how NATO was able to locate Farrell. Britain’s Guardian newspaper reports the rescue was conducted by British Special Forces: "Mohammad Sami Yowar, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor, confirmed the rescue by British Special Forces and said that the translator was killed."

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