Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 10:49 UK

Freed journalist thanks rescuers

Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi
Stephen Farrell (left) and Sultan Munadi were held in Kunduz

A journalist whose rescue in Afghanistan left a British paratrooper dead has thanked the soldiers who saved him, saying "it will never be enough".

New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell also paid tribute to his colleague, Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi, who died in the rescue "trying to help me".

They were kidnapped travelling to the scene of a Nato air strike and have been criticised for going to the area.

But Mr Farrell said his Afghan drivers advised him the road "appeared safe".

Crowd gathers

The 46-year-old had travelled to Kunduz, in the north of the country, to investigate the air strike last Friday on two hijacked fuel tankers when he was abducted with Mr Munadi, a journalist who was working as a translator.

In his blog in the New York Times, he said: "The drivers made a few phone calls and said the road north appeared to be safe until mid to late afternoon.

"It was close to the cut-off point, but if we left immediately we could do it."

It was over. Sultan was dead. He had died trying to help me, right up to the very last seconds of his life
Stephen Farrell

En route to see the tankers, the reporters stopped at the hospital where injured Afghanis were being treated. Mr Farrell said there were other Western journalists and aid workers there.

The following day they visited the site of the strike. Mr Farrell said: "There was no sign of hostility from the crowd, only faces eager to tell a story."

But he added: "A crowd began to gather, time passed and 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 fear we spent too long there."

The pair were captured shortly afterwards, and spent the next four days being moved between safe houses by the Taliban. Mr Farrell said they were treated well.

'Crossfire'

Two Afghan civilians also died in the Nato raid, a local governor told the BBC.

A resident of Char Dara district in Kunduz province, Mohammad Nabi, reportedly said his brother's wife was killed when his home was raided.

The Taliban had turned up there on Tuesday night with their two captives, demanding shelter, Mr Nabi told Reuters.

Sultan Munadi
I would not leave Afghanistan. I have passed the very darkest times of my country, when there was war and insecurity
Sultan Munadi

Military insiders have questioned whether going to an area where anger against the West had been caused by the civilian deaths in the Nato strike was wise.

A senior Army source told the Daily Telegraph: "When you look at the number of warnings this person had it makes you really wonder whether he was worth rescuing, whether it was worth the cost of a soldier's life.

"In the future, special forces might think twice in a similar situation."

Meanwhile, a group of Afghan journalists has blamed Nato troops for Mr Munadi death and criticised them for leaving his body behind.

The Media Club of Afghanistan also questioned whether other ways of resolving the hostage situation had been exhausted.

But former special forces soldier Hugh McManners told the BBC casualties were, sadly, "part and parcel" of these kinds of operations.

He said: "We don't know how the people were killed, whether it was the Taliban or some sort of crossfire incident, we simply don't know.

"The point is they went in, the journalist was rescued and they got out again."

Flying bullets

He added that the death of the hostages, hostage takers and possibly innocent civilians were "expected" with anything achieved above that "very definitely a bonus".

This is the second time Mr Farrell has been abducted while on assignment - in 2004 he was kidnapped in the Iraqi city of Falluja while working for London's Times newspaper.

Journalist Stephen Grey, who has worked in Afghanistan, said Mr Farrell was a fearless reporter.

"He is the sort of person who realises that you have to get out of your comfort zone beyond the wire in order to work out the truth."

Mr Farrell has described the moment the firefight with the Taliban started and Mr Munadi died.

"I did not know whether the bullets came from in front, to his right or to his left," he said.

"It was over. Sultan was dead. He had died trying to help me, right up to the very last seconds of his life."

Mr Farrell said he had thanked the soldiers who rescued him. "It wasn't, and never will be, enough," he said.



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