KABUL, Afghanistan - A U.S.-led military rescue operation ended in failure Friday when a Taliban militant set off explosives that killed a British aid worker kidnapped two weeks ago in eastern Afghanistan, Western officials said Saturday.
The raid was staged under cover of darkness amid growing concerns that Linda Norgrove, a 35-year-old contractor on a U.S.-backed Afghan development project, was in danger of being transported across the border to Pakistan, according to Western officials familiar with the incident.
"There was no choice," said a senior official with the U.S-led military coalition in Afghanistan who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to officially discuss the incident. "There was good information that this needed to be done because there were concerns that her life was in imminent danger."
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S-led forces in Afghanistan, said Afghan and coalition security forces "did everything in their power" to rescue Norgrove. He called her "a courageous person with a passion to improve the lives of Afghan people."
Militants abducted Norgrove and three Afghan colleagues Sept. 26 as they were traveling in a two-car convoy through Kunar Province, which borders western Pakistan.
While the three Afghan captives were freed earlier this week, officials said that Taliban militants kept Norgrove at an inaccessible compound in the forbidding Afghan mountains near the Pakistan border.
Military leaders had been poised to stage the raid for days. On Friday, they decided to give the go-ahead for U.S.-led forces using helicopters to stage the rescue attempt.
During the rescue, Western officials said, one of the captors detonated explosives near Norgrove, killing himself and the aid worker, who was spearheading a development project run by Development Alternatives Inc., an international consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.
Two Western officials said the captor used a suicide vest, but others said it wasn't clear what kind of explosives caused the blast.
Military officials in Kabul indicated that there were increasing concerns that Norgrove might be spirited across the border into Pakistan and handed over to more hard-line insurgents.
"You only have to look at the area she was in and how close she was to the border," said one Western official in Kabul who also agreed to discuss confidential details without being identified.
"Working with our allies we received information about where Linda was being held and we decided that, given the danger she was facing, her best chance of safe release was to act on that information," said William Hague, the British foreign secretary.
Norgrove's death came on the same day that four Italian soldiers were killed during an insurgent attack in western Afghanistan, a less volatile part of the country where security experts are beginning to see increases in violence.
To the east, hours after assailants in Pakistan staged another spectacular attack on fuel trucks carrying supplies for U.S-led forces in Afghanistan, the government in Islamabad announced that it was immediately re-opening the Khyber Pass border to NATO supply convoys, one of two critical border crossings with Afghanistan.
Pakistan blocked vital NATO supplies bound for Afghanistan on Sept. 30 after a confused U.S.-led attack killed two Pakistan paramilitary troops along the border.
American officials apologized Wednesday for the deaths that had sparked an unexpectedly long standoff.
U.S.-led forces rely on the two Pakistan border crossings to receive half of their non-lethal supplies.
After Pakistan barred NATO convoys from entering Afghanistan at Torkham, the Taliban took credit for staging a series of attacks on military fuel trucks.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow Afghanistan news at McClatchy's Checkpoint Kabul
McClatchy Newspapers 2010