British commandos dropped from helicopters and stormed a compound in northern Afghanistan overnight to free captured New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, but a firefight with his Taliban captors killed Farrell's Afghan colleague, one of the commandos and family members of the compound's owner.
The death of Sultan Munadi, a veteran freelance journalist who had been working for The New York Times for four years and the British soldier sparked questions in the Afghan media about the wisdom of the raid, although a local politician praised the decision to send in commandos.
The New York Times said it was unaware that the raid would take place.
Last Saturday armed Taliban fighters kidnapped Farrell and Munadi as the two interviewed witnesses to a NATO airstrike that killed approximately 90 people in Kunduz province.
U.S. military officials have admitted the strike killed many civilians.
Farrell provided an account of the raid to The New York Times this morning, describing what he called a "fierce firefight" with "a lot of soldiers."
As the helicopters approached, Farrell told the Times, "We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid. We thought they would kill us, we thought, should we go out."
Farrell and Munadi ran outside and heard British and Afghan voices, Farrell said. Munadi then advanced ahead of Farrell, shouting "Journalist! Journalist" when he was shot. Farrell said he was unsure who shot Munadi.
"I dived in a ditch," Farrell told the Times, staying there for a few minutes before calling out to the British voices. They urged him to approach, and as he did, he saw Munadi's body. "He was lying in the same position as he fell," Farrell told the Times.
"That's all I know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He's dead. He was so close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped."
This afternoon a group of more than 30 Afghan journalists received Munadi's body in Kabul. Munadi, who leaves behind a wife and two young children, studied in Germany and was in Afghanistan on vacation when he traveled to Kunduz with Farrell. The journalists were extremely emotional questioning the raid and how the troops treated Munadi's body.
'Why Was Body Left Behind?'
"Everyone's so angry. Why was his body left behind?" one of them asked.
Saad Mosheni, the head of Tolo, one of the largest Afghan media organizations, said much of the Afghan media's coverage of the incident was negative.
"The media is very pissed off. He was one of our own," he said. "The stories are sympathetic to him and critical to the rescue mission. From an Afghan point of view, the mission was botched, because the Afghans died."
But Moin Moistral, a member of parliament from Kunduz, said negotiations with the Taliban had stalled in the last few days and that the raid was necessary.
"They will not do this again," he said, referring to the Taliban's kidnapping journalists.
Farrell, who had also been kidnapped in Iraq in 2004, is the second New York Times journalist taken in Afghanistan in the last year. David Rohde was researching a book about Afghanistan when he and an Afghan colleague were taken outside Kabul last November. He was held for nearly seven months, mostly in Pakistan.
In both cases, The New York Times and other news organizations kept news of the kidnappings a secret out of fear for their safety.
In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent condolences to the commandos' and Munadi's families.
"This operation was carried out after extensive planning and consideration," he said in a statement. "Those involved knew the high risks they were running. That they undertook it in such circumstances showed breathtaking heroism."
While the criticism in Britain was not as loud as the criticism in Afghanistan, an article about the incident on The Times of London Web site did spark some angry comments.
"This is absolutely disgraceful that a soldier has to put his life at risk in an effort to save someone who shouldn't be there," wrote someone identified as KC. "Journalists are not military personnel so therefore should not be anywhere near war zones. Get them all out and let the military do their job."
Following that comment, dozens of people defended the idea of the raid, arguing Farrell, who was a dual British-Irish national, was worth trying to save.
While much of the attention and military focus in Afghanistan has been on the volatile provinces in the east and south of the country, the northern province of Kunduz has become a flash point of violence since NATO began using it as a supply line.
German troops stationed there said they are coping with more attacks, and the governor of Kunduz said as much of a third of his province was now controlled by the Taliban.
Like other media outlets, ABC News did not report on Farrell's abduction until he was freed. The Times requested the media blackout, saying it would increase the changes Farrell would survive the incident.