TOPICS > Nation

New York Times Journalist’s Rescue Raises Some Military Questions

September 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
Loading the player...
Independent Television News correspondent Andrew Thomas reports on the British rescue of New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell.

JIM LEHRER: Next tonight, dangerous reporting and the aftermath of the British rescue of a journalist held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. We begin with this report from Andrew Thomas of Independent Television News.

ANDREW THOMAS: Initially, it seemed heroic and necessary, but questions are being asked about whether the raid to rescue a British journalist and his Afghan colleague was wise and whether the journalists had been reckless in putting themselves in danger in the first place.

This is what they had initially come to see: the site of a NATO attack on a fuel tanker which had been hijacked by the Taliban. Overnight, Stephen Farrell has written an account of his ordeal in which he defends the decision to make the trip.

On the New York Times Web site, he admits that, when he and Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi first got near the site of the NATO attack…

STEPHEN FARRELL: Sultan began talking to the police and gleaned that it was not safe to go off the main highway to the site.

ANDREW THOMAS: But the following day, they went anyway.

STEPHEN FARRELL: I checked with Sultan and the driver to see if they felt safe going there, and they said it seemed all right.

ANDREW THOMAS: At the riverbank where the destroyed fuel tankers were, the journalists began interviewing locals. They were initially keen to talk, but…

STEPHEN FARRELL: As time passed, we grew nervous. I do not know how long we were there, but it was uncomfortably long. I am comfortable with the decision to go to the riverbank, but I fear we spent too long there.

ANDREW THOMAS: Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi were both taken by the Taliban and moved around for four days before British forces mounted their rescue raid. During it, the Afghan journalist, a British special forces soldier, and an unknown number of locals were killed.

But with speculation negotiations were underway that may have led to a peaceful outcome, should the raid have been sanctioned? Afghan journalists are angry by what they perceive was a botched job.

At Sultan Munadi’s house in Kabul this morning, colleagues gathered to mourn his death.

FARHAD PAYKAR, Afghan Media Club: The AMC holds responsible, the international forces, for the death of Munadi, because they resorted in military action before exhausting other nonviolent means. There is no justification for the international forces to rescue their own national and to free the dead body of their own soldier killed in action and leave behind the dead body of Sultan Munadi in the area. The AMC deems this action as inhuman.

ANDREW THOMAS: So a British journalist rescued, but an Afghan one and a soldier lost. From their point of view, too huge a cost.