Page last updated at 02:55 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 03:55 UK

No 10 defends Afghanistan rescue

David Miliband: ''This was the best way of rescuing these two people''

Downing Street has defended the decision to rescue a British journalist kidnapped in Afghanistan, saying it was "the best chance of saving life".

The final decision to rescue Stephen Farrell was taken by Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, a spokesman said.

An earlier, unsuccessful, raid took place within earshot of the captives.

The mission in northern Afghanistan left a British paratrooper, an Afghan journalist and two civilians dead.

The earlier raid was in the wrong location but close enough to alert Mr Farrell's kidnappers, the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner has learned.

He said: "There was in fact an earlier raid on Tuesday night put in by British forces to a location where they thought he was being held. They were just out, they were slightly wrong, but it was close enough for the Taliban who were holding Stephen Farrell to hear this.

"They captured some Taliban on the Tuesday night. A decision was then subsequently taken to go in."

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

The decision to move in followed consultation with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and advice from the government's emergency committee, Cobra.

Afghan journalists have blamed Nato troops for the death of their colleague, Sultan Munadi, a journalist who was working as a translator for Mr Farrell.

The Afghan journalists have also suggested that the raid was unnecessary because negotiations to free the captives were progressing.

But speaking on BBC2's Newsnight, the foreign secretary said: "We looked at all the options, and I stress all the options.

"We had full information in front of us from when we were first briefed on this at the weekend."

Mr Miliband added: "We came to the conclusion that the only way in which we could secure the successful release of both hostages was through the military action that was taken."

'Enormous repercussions'

Our correspondent said that had been denied by sources in the UK government: "That's not the picture they recognise at all.

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

"They say that negotiations were going nowhere and that once they had the location of where he was, given that he was being moved around a lot they needed to move swiftly in this early period.

"The big worry I think for them was that if they didn't go in and he was then moved off and a month later pops up in a Taliban or al-Qaeda video in an orange jumpsuit the repercussions would have been enormous."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it acted as a neutral intermediary to seek the journalists' unconditional release.

Jessica Barry from the ICRC said the group had been "in contact with different parties".

Writing in the New York Times, Mr Farrell said he thought there had been an earlier attempt to rescue them.

He said: ""On the third night, just before the 3 am meal - Muslims breakfast very early to comply with the Ramadan daytime fast - there was a scare. Aerial activity intensified, and there were loud explosions in nearby fields.

"We and the Taliban, took this as an attempt to free us. They fled with us in minutes, racing across open fields in the dark until they found another refuge."

'Appeared safe'

Mr Farrell and Mr Munadi were kidnapped travelling to Kunduz in the north of the country.

They were heading to the scene of a Nato air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers in which a number of bystanders were killed.

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.

But Mr Farrell, 46, said his Afghan drivers advised him the road "appeared safe".

Civilian deaths

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

Vincent Brossell from Reporters Without Borders

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.

Mr Farrell has thanked the soldiers who saved him, saying "It wasn't, and never will be, enough".

He also paid tribute to his colleague Mr Munadi, who died "trying to help me".

He said: "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."

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.

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