Afghan Reporters Condemn NATO for Death of 'NYT' Reporter's Colleague

By: A group of Afghan journalists blamed the international coalition Thursday for the death of a kidnapped colleague during the British commando rescue of a New York Times reporter and accused the troops of having a ''double standard'' for Western and Afghan lives.

The accusation came as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said that troops had carried out the raid Wednesday in an attempt to recover both British-Irish reporter Stephen Farrell and his Afghan translator Sultan Munadi and that the mission was authorized as the ''best chance of protecting life.''

The newly formed Media Club of Afghanistan -- set up by Afghan reporters who work with international news outlets -- also condemned the Taliban for abducting both journalists last week in northern Afghanistan as they investigated reports of civilian deaths in a German-ordered airstrike.

More than 50 Afghan reporters, wearing cameras and carrying notebooks, laid flowers Thursday at the Kabul cemetery grave of Munadi, 34, who died in gunfire as British commandos launched the rescue operation in northern Kunduz province. Farrell survived and was taken away in a helicopter. One British commando was also killed in the raid.

In a statement, the journalists' group said it held international forces responsible for launching a military operation without exhausting nonviolent channels.

The journalists also said it was ''inhumane'' for the British forces to rescue Farrell, who has dual British-Irish nationality, and also retrieve the body of the British commando killed in the raid, while leaving behind Munadi's body.

Munadi's body was retrieved Wednesday afternoon following negotiations with local elders, said Mohammad Omar, the Kunduz provincial governor. He said villagers moved the body to a local hospital, where staff put it in a coffin, loaded it into a car and sent it to Kabul. Munadi's family buried him in the capital late Wednesday.

Fazul Rahim, an Afghan producer for CBS News who was involved in drafting the journalists' statement, said the troops' leaving the body showed a lack of respect.

''It shows a double standard between a foreign life and an Afghan life,'' he said.

President Hamid Karzai has condemned the killing and called for an investigation. His spokesman Hamed Elmi said Thursday that the government was not involved in the decision to mount the raid. He said it would be unusual for international forces to involve them in that type of call.

Col. Wayne Shanks, a U.S. and NATO spokesman, called the deaths during the rescue operation ''tragic'' but said he did not want to assign blame.

''It's unfortunate that this whole situation occurred, that the journalists were kidnapped,'' he said, adding, ''I don't think that during the middle of a firefight anyone can blame someone for what they did or did not do.''

The exact circumstances of Munadi's death remain unclear. British defense officials said the rescue team came under small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire.

Munadi, the father of two young sons, was hit by gunfire after he had moved forward with his hands raised, shouting, ''Journalist! Journalist!'' according to Farrell's account.

Brown's office said the British leader will contact Munadi's family to offer his condolences.

The Afghan journalists on Thursday took a convoy of more than 30 cars to pay respects at the Munadi's family's house, where women wept in one room and men in another. Munadi's father held a scarf up to his face as he cried. He said he hoped other Afghan journalists wouldn't suffer the same fate.

''I just pray to God that what my son has been through, his brothers do not have to go through,'' Qurban Mohammad said.

Munadi's mother and wife sat against a wall, red-eyed and sharing a sheet to cover their legs. They were surrounded by headscarfed women crying, wailing and singing.

The outrage among the Afghan reporters over Munadi's death adds to criticism of foreign forces in Afghanistan, even as the NATO command is intent on limiting civilian deaths in military operations and winning broader public support, nearly eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban's hard-line regime for sheltering al-Qaida leaders.

NATO is investigating reports that civilians were among the dozens who died last week in Kunduz when a German commander ordered U.S. jets to bomb two hijacked fuel tankers. Local officials have said around 70 people were killed in the ensuing explosion.

Munadi and Farrell were in Kunduz to report on the aftermath of the airstrike. They were kidnapped by gunmen while interviewing villagers about what happened.


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