The New York Times and other news outlets in the know had kept quiet about the capture of Stephen Farrell four days earlier by Taliban militants. British commandoes freed him in a raid Wednesday morning, but his Afghan interpreter was killed in the fight.
Farrell knew he was going into an area with a heavy Taliban presence when he and interpreter Sultan Munadi went on Saturday to report on the aftermath of NATO airstrikes Friday on fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban – attacks that succeeded in destroying the tankers, but which also caused numerous civilian casualties and further strained NATO relations with the Afghan government.
As Farrell interviewed angry villagers on Saturday, a group of Taliban fighters arrived with rifles and machine guns. Farrell’s driver managed to escape by running into nearby rice fields and reported to Farrell’s colleagues in Kabul that the journalist and his interpreter had been captured.
Four days later the British commandoes carried out a raid on the building where Farrell and Mundai were being held. Some reports from London said the strike was personally approved by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
According to the account in the New York Times, Farrell, who holds British and Irish citizenship, said his captors scattered when the commando attack began on Wednesday, although there was gunfire all around them for some time. When it appeared safe, Mundai went out with his hands raised and shouted “journalist” in English, but was brought down in a hail of bullets. Farrell dove into a ditch, he said, and came out when British voices called for him. He saw his colleague lying dead on the ground.
“We’re overjoyed that Steve is free, but deeply saddened that his freedom came at such a cost. We are doing all we can to learn the details of what happened. Our hearts go out to Sultan’s family and to the family of the British commando who gave his life in the rescue,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times.
Prime Minister Brown also released a statement praising the commandoes, while lamenting the death of Mundai and one of the commandoes. He reiterated that whenever British national are kidnapped, “we and our allies will do everything in our power to free them.”