Michael's Dispatches

The Linda Norgrove Rescue Tragedy


Published: 11 October 2010

Ms. Linda Norgrove was kidnapped on 26 September during an ambush in eastern Afghanistan.  A trusted and knowledgeable source told me he expected there was a high likelihood she would be killed by these particularly brutal people.  Several days ago, during a rescue attempt led by U.S. forces, Ms. Norgrove was killed.  There is some speculation surrounding the circumstances of her death.

Today, I emailed the office of General Petraeus regarding the tragedy surrounding Ms. Norgrove. After two wars, General Petraeus is one of the sources I greatly trust. I did not speak to him directly about this. The general's staff responded immediately with emails and a phone call.  I asked Major Sunset Belinsky in Afghanistan to email an account of the situation.

This email came immediately from Major Sunset Belinsky:

--BEGIN email --

"Additional information developed by the military commander in charge of the rescue operation prompted Gen. Petraeus to call for an immediate investigation. Review of the surveillance footage and discussions with rescue team members did not conclusively determine the cause of Linda Norgrove's death. The initial report was that the captor set off some sort of explosive device which killed Ms. Norgrove. The review showed what was believed to be a member of the rescue team throwing a hand grenade in the area near where Ms. Norgrove was later found. It's now unclear what the exact circumstances surrounding her death are, and the investigation will attempt to determine the facts."

---END email --

The men who perform these very dangerous missions are the best we have.  As we mourn the loss of Ms. Norgrove, please remember who these men are: men who would give their own lives to save hers.  It serves nobody well to point fingers at men who just risked their lives in a very dangerous operation.  When a patient goes under the scalpel during a surgery in a safe hospital under the most controlled circumstances, there is always a chance that things will go wrong.  Yet during these military operations, the “doctors” often die with the “patient.”  This is dangerous stuff.  This is war.  Everyone knows the risks.

Rest in peace the courageous Linda Norgrove.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    mike wilson · 11 years ago
    Keep reports coming-- God Bless Our Troops== also stay safe so you can sign my copy on your new book-- ordered it last week-- heading to the Suwannee Flats for a little Redfish and Trout time-- thinking of you and the troops-- God Bless- Mike Wilson
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sally Pavia · 11 years ago
    The troops did the best they could, they can't be blamed for any accidents that happened.
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    kwgm · 11 years ago

    I generally have nothing but admiration and praise for your reporting. I too disdain the murder of a journalist, and am old enough to understand that journalists were once objective, non-combatants who followed up a story of either side of the conflict when possible.

    Your opening startled me. You wrote: "Ms. Linda Norgrove was kidnapped on 26 September during an ambush in eastern Afghanistan. A trusted and knowledgeable source told me he expected there was a high likelihood she would be killed by these particularly brutal people. "

    What I find troubling is your lack of qualification. You state that Ms. Norgrove was kidnapped in eastern Afghanistan, and in your second sentence you relay the report of a source who stated he expected her to be killed.

    But your closing clause described her killers as "particularly brutal people".

    My problem is that you state she was kidnapped in Eastern Afghanistan, but not by whom. Then you use a broad journalistic brush with which you paint, whom? The people of eastern Afghanistan or her killers?

    Your exposition does not make this clear, nor does it clarify whether it was your source or you who chose the epithet.

    The Taliban are a particularly brutal people. So was the Hussein regime in Iraq. From the perspective of many in the region, so was the Bush (Jr.) administration. Yet, there are approximately 0 million people in Afghanistan, a further 25 million people lived under the tyranny of Saddam, and America had a population of 00 million people when it invaded Iraq in 200 on the dubious evidence of WMD presented by the US, which was later proven to be incorrect.

    Yet, although the numbers of people killed during this century by these three modern powers is appalling, could we accept the characterization of the Afghan, Iraqi, or American people as a "particularly brutal people"?

    Please sir, try to avoid the ambiguity of the opening paragraph found here in future communications -- leave that kind of thing to the major news outlets.
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    Frank Burt · 11 years ago
    I can only speculate, but it would seem logical to me that SOP in a rescue operation of this sort would call for utilization of less than lethal explosive devices such as Flash-Bang grenades in close proximity to the hostage. This, however, would not prevent a hostage taker from killing the hostage with an explosive device triggered by a dead man switch. These are the sad facts of life in ops of this sort. I don't envy anybody having to make the decisions required for this or the burden of conscience in the aftermath.
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    Charles · 11 years ago

    Obviously you haven't been following his work. If he acted like the rest of the media he wouldn't be able to do what he does. Look at his past record of reporting on time and operational sensitive matters and you see lots of vague references that are later (when it won't affect operations) detailed, and you'll find lots of examples.

    I trust his reporting far more than the air conditioned talking heads who never put themselves in the field.
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    Faith+1 · 11 years ago

    I didn't read it that way. I did not read it as "the people of eastern Afghanistan are brutal", but rather as "the people who kidnapped her were known to be particularly brutish" and the eastern Afghanistan as nothing more than a geographic reference pointing out the area of the kidnapping. Of course, I wasn't reading it with the intent of finding some perceived slight in order to justify a bit of anti-American grand standing either.
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    Sean · 11 years ago
    If you're dumb enough to go over there and put yourself in harm's way, no military organization should be obligated to rescue you. In fact, it should be forbidden.

    Especially since, no matter how many times the military is successful at freeing folks (which they usually are), the one time it goes badly, the anti-war/pro-Isamist folks will use a failure for political gain.

    It's bad enough we have still have soldiers over there dying for a pre-historic people who don't want what we're trying to sell them. Risking solders' lives and health because some naive dilletante felt like proving something to themselves and their daddy just makes me sick (and yes, I AM trivializing what the deceased was in Afghanistan to d .

    Either Petreaus or Gates had better come out finally and say "no more rescues", and let the self-important "humanitarians" assume the full risk of their own folly. I think it's terrible that the Pentagon has indulged these self-righteous idealists for as long as they have.
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    twolaneflash · 11 years ago
    "Everyone is so angry about the way the military intervened instead of waiting for the shuras to continue their negotiations, which everyone feels strongly would have worked..." . Not to worry, dear, bless your heart, because all those rough American men will be gone soon and you can fend for yourself. I'm sure the Taliban and Al Qaeda will treat you with great respect and gentleness when the troops leave, which can't be soon enough for me.
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    Scrib · 11 years ago
    You know, I had an anxiety attack recently because I fouled up the cosmetics of an an unseen part of a computer I was working on for a client. I cannot imagine what it would feel like for the US soldiers who threw that grenade right now (whether it was what killed her or not).

    BTW kwgm, Ms Norgrove was an aid worker, not a journalist. It behooves anyone holding another to account for accuracy to at least get the basics of the situation correct. Even moreso if you would wish your comment not be dismissed as trolling.
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    Jackson · 11 years ago

    Yon posted on Facebook and it was more clear that he was talking about the particular faction that kidnapped Norgrove (although I didn't think this post was as unclear as you seem t . If you really do admire and follow Yon you should know better.
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    JB · 11 years ago
    One can only hope that this investigation will be more transparent than Stanley McChrystal's investigation into the death of Pat Tillman. Unfortunately the military doesn't have a great track record at investigating itself...
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    shegide · 11 years ago
    I'm with Sean on this issue. It beggars belief that foreign aid workers are even allowed into Afghanistan, never mind that they expect the good guys to attempt dangerous rescues. If there is aid to be delivered let the military deliver it. This is not the time or place for social work.

    That said, I am sorry this young woman lost her life. If a grenade was thrown by a member of the rescue mission, and if that is what killed her, it is more tragic. Still, soldiers are flesh and blood men, not superheroes.

    Perhaps if aid workers had to sign a waiver, relinquishing their expectations of rescue if kidnapped, then these particular tragedies would not happen.

    My condolences to her family and friends, and to the soldiers who tried to save her life.
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    Michael Kennedy · 11 years ago
    JB, just who was it that determined the circumstances of Tillman's death? Was it CBS news or one of the anti-war NGOs ? I believe it was the military that uncovered the attempted coverup by the unit. They were embarrassed by the fact that it was friendly fire and attempted to change the story to make him a hero. Their ruse was uncovered and the higher command determined the truth. Therefore, I believe your last sentence is untrue and an illustration of a certain mindset.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Hester · 11 years ago

    Oh for goodness sakes! Michael Yon is obviously referring to the people who kidnapped her. Jeez.
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    Vinny B. · 11 years ago
    I blame her death on George W. Bush because he should have never started that illegal war to begin with.
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    ThomasD · 11 years ago
    God forbid I should ever find myself in such a predicament. But should such a situation arrive i would rather die from the secondary effects of my countrymen than at the hands of such savages.

    Because, if anyone has to die, my preferences for death, in order, are:

    1. My enemy
    2. Myself
    . My rescuers

    I would hope my rescuers plan and act accordingly.
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    Chris Brosnahan · 11 years ago
    Casualties of War - unfortunate, but it's WAR!!! The Operators do their best, but even in the spectacular Israeli raid on Entebbe in '76 there were casualties among the hostages....A Free State should NEVER allow the possibilities of 'friendly' casualties to stand in the way if a rescue is needed. The 'taking heads' who may (most likely will) criticize this action are ignoramuses ('nomanons' as my Irish Grandmother called 'em) who understand NOTHING of reality of plans going awry upon first contact with the enemy - You PLAN, REHEARSE and pray for the best - BUT you can't control a hostage moving into the line of fire at the least opportune moment ('nuff said)....God rest her soul and God Bless the Operators who risked their lives to try....
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    Gismo Fly · 11 years ago
    My thanks to US Special forces for their brave effort to rescue Linda Norgrove. Naturally, we are all saddened by the death of Ms Norgrove as will be her rescuers. It was a daring and courageous attack probably an eleventh hour rescue which took the lives of the evil barbarians who kidnapped the innocent aid worker. That is some consolation in this tragic event. I am also glad to read there were no casualties amongst the good guys. It was a brilliant effort. Well done thou good and faithful friends.
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    Sean · 11 years ago
    Chris, your Irish grandmother was most likely calling folks "omadhauns" (ahh-mah-dahns), an Irish term for idiot/simpleton.
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    DWash · 11 years ago
    @ThomasD: Yes! And I hope the military makes sure the rescuers are not haunted by guilt at the loss of her life. They will naturally evaluate their actions, but should not feel guilty if they did all they could do to effect a successful rescue.
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    Chase · 11 years ago
    Twolaneflash, where is that quote from?
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    sookie · 11 years ago
    I can not imagine why anyone would point fingers at these soldiers and the very dangerous task they undertook.

    I have nothing but admiration for them and am in awe of them. I suspect the outcome was very disheartening for them.

    RIP Linda Norgrove
  • This commment is unpublished.
    casstx · 11 years ago
    Mike and I have had our differences, and I still maintain my stand on them, and as usual on this we agree and respectfully disagree:

    "The men who perform these very dangerous missions are the best we have.... This is dangerous stuff. This is war. Everyone knows the risks."

    I've been involved in USAID programs with the university I am affiliated with that have had to face cutbacks in aid to dangerous areas, and I have stated openly to those I am involved with currently that eastern Afghanistan, and the rest of it as well, is no place for unarmed civilians. Until they allow AID workers to arm themselves, or have contractor protection of some sort, they simply cannot operate in a war zone because it is war and bad ugly things happen. The tribe that Norgrove was taken by is well known for its brutality and to try and work in their area is sheer insanity. Yes, the people need help, but the insurgents see to it that they don't want it, and this is how and why. I pray to higher powers every day that Special Forces get their missions done safely, whether they be attacks, medical work, or rescues of naive workers. My husband is one of them. Mike says everyone knows the risks, but AID workers don't truly understand those risks, they typically only see that help is needed. It's a war zone and to put people like my husband in danger to rescue them, well I simply can't go along with that, and I won't agree. The men who do the missions are our very best, I agree and know it to be true. The woman was an innocent and that's why they took her, and I am truly sorry for her death. I am equally glad that no SF lives were taken as well. They are our best, just as Britain has their best.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bronco · 11 years ago
    Reasonable people understand that it doesnt always go as planned but are still willing to try.

    The conspiracy mongers and the haters will have thier say, and so be it..

    But the rest of us know the risks and do not fault anyone but the terrorists.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ken · 11 years ago
    "I'm with Sean on this issue. It beggars belief that foreign aid workers are even allowed into Afghanistan, never mind that they expect the good guys to attempt dangerous rescues. If there is aid to be delivered let the military deliver it. This is not the time or place for social work. "

    Ill throw this in, YOU n Sean are off track brother...
    NO, the US Mil can not do this kind of work.. you have to go there to get this, Yon gets it..
    the mil is there to break things and kill people, NOT BE SOCIAL workers, (yer right there)

    when you roll into a village in MRAPS armored up and being a soldier, this can get an entire village killed... up
    in the bad lands... as the mil goes back to the FOB.

    someone has got to do the civsurgency.

    DAI is one of the star groups doing this, and doing it well.....

    Its just the roll of dice, linda could run that that road, 5 mins outside JBAD....
    99 of 100 times in lo pro mode, and not have an issue..

    but on 100.. its 100.... >

    My heart felt thanks to the SF guys that made a run at it... and we all wish Linda was safe in JBAD tonite..

    I'd wanna know more about the cockbags that snagged her..those that are still alive that is.....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pencil Neck · 11 years ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ScotsWarrior · 11 years ago
    As a proud Scot I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of fellow Scots aid worker Linda Norgrove, but utterly grateful of the US troops who put THEIR lives at risk trying to rescue her. As usual, the bumbling politicians are at odds with one another on who should take the blame!! They should take a long, hard look at THEMSELVES!! On Saturday 9th Oct. which must have only been hours after the rescue attempt we were informed that the aid worker was killed by a suicide vest, only to be told yesterday (monday 11th) that was not the case... Surely, after such an event every detail of the rescue bid should have been reviewed over and over before ANY statement was issued?? This is why I personaly, rely on Michael Yon for news on the war in A-stan, because ALL mainstream news agencies balls up any story they get their hands on!! Keep up the good work Michael, keep ur head down + ur chin up...
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    Gordon McStraun · 11 years ago
    The usual suspects (people who talk for a living) will whinge and whine about this, but you are quite right Michael. Sometimes we don't get a happy ending, just continued amazement that we have such courageous men on our side who would dare to attempt such a thing.
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    Maureen · 11 years ago
    Folks -- places that are safe and prosperous and happy don't need foreign aid workers, just like most places in the US that need help from charity are dangerous places (either due to people, or the aftereffects of Nature being destructive). I'm fairly sure aid workers expect to be harassed, to get no gratitude, and to have their lives threatened if not taken. That doesn't mean they have to go off and leave the rest of the world to die in agony.

    Norgrove came from the back of beyond, in the bare, stormy, and rocky Hebrides, to go help people in bare and rocky Afghanistan. She was probably a tough Islander who had no illusions about her chances. Don't treat her like she was some kind of featherhead who expected Afghanistan to be Happy Land.

    And no, soldiers aren't aid workers any more than they are police, firefighters, or ballet dancers. Sometimes they do a bit of that, just as they're expected to be jacks of all trades with computers and roads and who knows what else. But non-government connected charities have to do business during wars, because most of the world is always at war. The Red Cross isn't going to vanish, for example; it was created specifically for wartime charity on the front lines; and its peacetime activities are what's new.

    There is no safety in this world; barring the Second Coming arriving first, we all have to die sometime.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kathy D · 11 years ago
    This was an excellent reminder, Michael. My prayers are with Ms. Norgrove's family AND with the troops who were willing to risk their lives to rescue her. God bless them all.
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    Aime Watts, Jr. · 11 years ago
    Not withstanding a few miserable people here, this was a good job of reporting the issue and defusing what could turn into a nasty finger-pointing debacle. Thank you.
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    MSimon · 11 years ago
    For some reason this story, and these comments made me think of the movie A Few Good Men, and this line as performed by Jack Nickolson.

    I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.
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    amalia · 11 years ago
    Wonderful quote; very much how most, if not all, military feel.

    Linda-may you find comfort in the arms of God

    Ken-say hello to the jbad PX manager for me
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    claudia · 11 years ago
    Vinny B,

    It is so sad how people like you have no clue as to what is happening in the real world. Open you eyes and see that this war was a response to the attack and for the deaths of 500 people murdered in the world trade center bombing. How quickly we forget this event, and how quickly we forget about all the freedoms that we as Americans enjoy due to the lives sacrificed by the men and women who have the guts to fight for those freedoms, so that people like you can make ignorant statements such as this one due to the freedom of speech, remember that one! If it weren't for President Bush Sadaam Hussein would still be in power, and the Iraqi people would still be living in tyranny. Think about that one when you open your mouth next time to say this war wasn't necessary for us or for them...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    You cannot build if you do not Clear and Hold first.
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    Mark · 11 years ago
    Interesting that the story is widely reported in Europe and yet seems to be overlooked in the USA.

    To those of you opining that the US military should not be attempting rescues of foreign nationals in these circumstances please remember that the British (and other NATO forces) are on hand and more than capable of such tasks. In fact, the UK's SAS and SBS have extraordinary records in hostage scenarios and the SEALs were employed only because the area is under US command. It is quite possible that a US citizen will be rescued by the SAS/SBS in future should the scenario unfold within a British administered province (but let us hope it never comes to this). Please try and remember that Afghanistan is a NATO operation.

    What concerns me is that the initial story put forward was incorrect and clearly so. Those on the ground would have known this from a very early stage and yet the incorrect details were handed over to the press.
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    Linda in Bama · 11 years ago

    Have you EVER heard of OPSEC? It's clear you don't follow Mike's work or you'd know he's a former Green Beret and VERY experienced w/ being embedded with combat troops on the front line in harm's way. Mike knows what he's doing and no way will he break OPSEC to please someone like you.

    And where do you get off comparing America to Hussein, The Taliban and bin-Laden? Are you crazy?

    Mike ignore this clown. Keep doing what you've always done. Your dispatches are great.

    Watch your six.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tammy · 11 years ago
    Linda Norgrove was not being dumb or reckless for serving in Afghanistan during war time. She was obviously aware of the dangers, but courageously chose to give her life to a cause worth giving. As President G.W. Bush said in his January 2007 State of the Union Address, we need now more than ever to "win the hearts and minds" of the people in whose lands we are fighting. Our military cannot fight this war alone; we need doctors, agricultural experts, business people, and teachers. I firmly believe this, and that is a big part of why as a teacher I have traveled to Iraq six times in the last four years. Before I left to teach for a semester there, I was briefed by the director of my NGO - I know the risks. I believe they are worth taking. And I agree with our former Commander-in-Chief that my "mission" is no less valuable than a soldier's. In fact, God-willing, the organization I serve with will be there long after all our military personnel have gone.
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    cftech · 11 years ago
    I blame Obama because he said the Afghan war is a justified war but he did not send enough troops because he does not want to lose the the rest of the Democrats.
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    Brit Veteran · 11 years ago
    Sadly Miss Norgrove died, as some of you have said its war. The biggest loser out of this will be the US as it has an absolutley rubbish reputation for investigating its own military personnel when things go wrong. Whether its a US military aircraft cutting wires of a cable car in Italy, bombing British military vehicles in the first Gulf War or a hostage rescue op. The people involved suddenly are rushed back to the US, an investigation happens, a slapped had here and there, some kind words and an inclonclusive finding and its all over with very little evidence of any lessons identified or learn, those found to be incompetent or criminal go unpunished or their punishment is so trivial to raise disgust. Sorry, but more and more people don't trust the US military, look how the story evolved it was the taliban who killed her, then it turns out a US soldier killed her by mistake - looks like bum covering and lies in the first instance. Would you work with an organisation with a reputation like that?
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    JR · 11 years ago
    Vinny B - I bet you blame someone else for every problem you encounter in life.
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    JR · 11 years ago
    Rescue Ops - The US Military did not kill Miss Norgrove the Taliban did! They should not have kidnapped an aid worker period.
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    PhilipL · 11 years ago
    While I can appreciate the danger the SEALS were in during the operation the death of Linda Norgrove is further evidence of the US military's destroy first, ask questions later mentality. This is not the first case where the US willingness to employ maximum fire power has resulted in the death of a friendly. I might add that prior to her death Ms. Norgrove was alive in the hands of the Taliban. After a few moments in the presence of US forces she is dead. Speaks volumes.
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    DonM · 11 years ago
    @PhilipL Ms. Norgrove was an aid worker. Kidnapping is a crime. That she was kidnapped and held alive until the Taliban could get their movie cameras ready to murder her with a record of the atrocity is not a flaw of the US military. She had been in the presence of US forces before, with no harm. To put it charitably, you have no idea what maximum firepower is when associated with the US military. Kidnappers are legally responsible for any harm that comes to the people they kidnap. Your position is shameful.

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