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'Times' Reporter Freed In Afghanistan

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Northern Afghanistan today, a New York Times reporter was freed from captivity. He and his Afghan interpreter had been held hostage by the Taliban. Early today he was rescued by British commandos. But the operation claimed the lives of several others including one commando and the interpreter.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has the story from Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Times reporter Steven Farrell is no stranger to war. The British and Irish citizen has covered the Middle East for years. But this weekend, Farrell and his Afghan colleague Sultan Munadi ignored warnings to avoid a Taliban friendly village in Char Dara district. The village is in the Northern Province of Kunduz. Some of its residence were amongst 70 people killed in a U.S. air strike, a NATO fuel tanker that had been hijacked by local Taliban. Taliban fighters nabbed Farrell and Munadi, while they were near the site a day later. They were the second team from the Times to be kidnapped in Afghanistan in the past ten months. Neither the Times nor the family said they were aware of British plans to rescue the pair early this morning.

Commandos dropped from helicopters and attacked the compound where the two are being held. Farrell told The Times that Munadi stepped forward shouting, journalist, journalist, but was felled by gun fire. Who fired the fatal shots is unknown? The commandos then whisked Farrell away. New York Times editor Bill Keller told the BBC, he has mixed feelings about the operation.

Mr. BILL KELLER (Executive Editor, New York Times): Obviously we were hugely relived to have Steve free, but Sultan Munadi who was killed in the rescue was much beloved translator who has worked with many of our correspondents in Afghanistan. And we really feel his loss and we obviously feel for the families of the British commando, who gave his life in this rescue attempt.

NELSON: But Afghan minister Karim Khurram said his country was not content to let the matter rest.

Mr. KARIM KHURRAM (Afghan Minister): (Through Translator) We at the Ministry of Culture and Information are happy that the New York Times journalist has been freed. But we are saddened that during these operations, the Afghan journalist didn't survive. I hope the relevant people will investigate why this happened.

NELSON: That's because many here view Munadi's death as proof that international forces care more about western lives than Afghan ones.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.