KABUL — A group of Afghan journalists blamed international forces Thursday for a kidnapped colleague's death during the British commando rescue of a New York Times reporter and said the troops have a "double standard" for Western and Afghan lives.
The accusation came as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said the raid Wednesday was an attempt to recover both British-Irish reporter Stephen Farrell and Afghan translator and reporter Sultan Munadi and that it was authorized as the "best chance of protecting life."
The newly formed Media Club of Afghanistan — set up by Afghan reporters who work with international news outlets — also condemned the Taliban for abducting both journalists last week in northern Afghanistan as they investigated reports of civilian deaths in a German-ordered airstrike. Both of the main contenders in the country's disputed presidential election called for investigations into Munadi's death.
More than 50 Afghan reporters, wearing cameras and carrying notebooks, laid flowers Thursday at the Kabul cemetery grave of Munadi, 34, who died in gunfire amid the rescue operation in northern Kunduz province. Farrell survived and was freed. One British commando was also killed in the raid.
In a statement, the journalists' group said it held international forces responsible for launching a military operation without exhausting nonviolent channels. They also criticized British forces for retrieving the body of the slain British commando while leaving behind Munadi's body.
'Double standard' alleged
"It shows a double standard between a foreign life and an Afghan life," said Fazul Rahim, an Afghan producer for CBS News who helped draft the journalists' statement.
Munadi's family buried him in the capital late Wednesday after privately arranging to retrieve the body.
Col. Wayne Shanks, a U.S. and NATO spokesman, called the deaths "tragic" but said, "I don't think that during the middle of a firefight anyone can blame someone for what they did or did not do."
A British defense official, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive details of the mission, insisted Munadi wasn't treated any differently from Farrell in the commando raid.
"This was not an operation to save one individual," the official said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing as did his main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
The journalists' organization, however, said neither their own government nor the Taliban seemed to care as much about the lives of kidnapped Afghans as high-profile foreigners.
"In some instances, foreign journalists are freed for all sorts of reasons, but the Afghan journalists are brutally killed and less attention is given to them," the group said.
In 2007, Taliban militants kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, his Afghan translator Ajmal Naqshbandi and their driver Sayed Agha in southern Helmand province. Mastrogiacomo was released two weeks later in exchange for five Taliban prisoners, while both Naqshbandi and Agha were killed.
Who shot reporter is unclear
In was unclear Thursday whether Munadi, the father of two young sons, was killed by British or militant gunfire.
In his account of their four days in captivity, Farrell wrote in the New York Times that when the raid began, he and Munadi ran out into the dark. He said Munadi led the way and moved forward with his hands raised, shouting, "Journalist! Journalist!" to someone Farrell could not see.
"There was a burst of gunfire and he went down immediately," Farrell wrote. He said he dove into a ditch until he heard British voices and called out. When he emerged, he saw Munadi's body lying where it had fallen.
"He had died trying to help me, right up to the very last seconds of his life," Farrell wrote. He said the British commandos rushed him from the scene.
"They told me they had his picture and would look for him, then dragged me away" toward a waiting helicopter, he wrote.
Brown's office said the British leader will contact Munadi's family to offer his condolences.
The Afghan journalists on Thursday took a convoy of more than 30 cars to pay respects at Munadi's family's house, where women wept in one room and men in another. Munadi's father held a scarf up to his face as he cried.
Munadi's mother and wife sat against a wall, red-eyed and sharing a sheet to cover their legs. They were surrounded by headscarfed women crying, wailing and singing.
The outrage among the Afghan reporters over Munadi's death adds to criticism of foreign forces in Afghanistan, even as the NATO command is intent on limiting civilian deaths in military operations and winning broader public support, nearly eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban's hard-line regime for sheltering al-Qaida leaders.
NATO is investigating reports that civilians were among the dozens who died last week in Kunduz when a German commander ordered U.S. jets to bomb two hijacked fuel tankers. Local officials have said around 70 people were killed in the ensuing explosion.
Munadi and Farrell were in Kunduz to report on the aftermath of the airstrike. They were kidnapped by gunmen while interviewing villagers at a riverbank about what happened.
"I am comfortable with the decision to go to the riverbank, but fear we spent too long there," Farrell wrote.
Police had warned reporters of the dangers of traveling to the village in Kunduz province, and other Western journalists, including some from the AP, went there in the company of NATO forces.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.