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US Forces in Afghanistan Review Hostage Rescue Tactics

An undated photo of Linda Norgrove posing before a camera, released by her family through the British Foreign Office

The United States military is reviewing its tactics, techniques and procedures in hostage rescue situations, following the investigation of the death of a British aid worker killed by U.S. rescue forces in Afghanistan. The British foreign secretary confirmed the details of the accidental death in the mountains of Afghanistan in October.

British aid worker Linda Norgrove was killed in October by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, during a failed rescue mission. Initial reports said she had been killed by her captors, but soon after it was revealed her death was likely caused by her American rescuers.

An investigation was launched, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament what happened when the American special forces team launched the assault.

"The team came under attack as soon as they left the helicopter," he said. "As the soldiers progressed towards these lower buildings, Linda Norgrove's captors came out and were engaged by the soldiers who were advancing on a narrow ledge and under threat."

Hague says the American forces thought Norgrove was in another building of the insurgents' camp.

"A grenade was thrown by a member of the rescue team who feared for his own life and for those of his team towards a gully from which some of insurgents had emerged. When the grenade was thrown, no member of the team had seen or heard Linda Norgrove," he said.

The U.S. troops found her body in a gully and a medic examined her.

"Initial reports suggested that she had died as a result of a detonation of a suicide vest because of the nature of the wounds found on the captor lying closest to her. The explosion observed was in line with the team's experience of suicide vests or other weaponry exploding," said Hague.

Hague says after a senior U.S. military officer reviewed video footage, that account was called into question.

"Linda Norgrove died as a result of penetrating fragmentation injuries to the head and chest. After the investigation, it is clear that these injuries were caused by the grenade," he said.

Hague says the soldiers had reported their use of a grenade, but the communication did not make its way up the command chain.

"Members of rescue team have been disciplined for failing to provide a complete and full account of their actions in accordance with US military procedure," he added.

Hague says the speed of the investigation shows U.S. authorities are taking this seriously.

"The U.S. military is reviewing post-operation procedures to ensure that the true sequence of events in such complicated operations is reviewed earlier and more accurately, that was the case than on this tragic occasion," he said.

Hague says the United States will share the lessons it has learned with its British military counterparts.