Anthony Loyd really should know better than to write as he did today in the Times (£). He has been an observer of enough wars to know that they are one cock-up after another, and that however meticulously an operation is planned, there are just too many variables to safely predict the exact outcome.
I do not know whether some Seal tossed a frag into the room where the unfortunate Linda Norgrove was being held by a gang of Haqqani talibs. Nor do I know whether, if he did, it was because the Haqs inside the room had shown an unequivocal determination to fight to the death and to take her with them.
Neither does Loyd, yet he rushes to judgement. First he states that of 74 foreign hostages taken by the Taliban since 2002, "only (?) 16 have been killed" and 58 released after negotiations, a better survival rate "it seems, than of surviving being rescued". It seems, does it? How many rescue attempts have there been? And what about the one who escaped, mentioned later in the article? Kinda messes up the figures, doesn't it?
Then there's this: "The Haqqanis - though profligate killers - can be as keen as any other Aghan militant group to keep hostages alive for leverage". Well, for starters you can take "militant" and shove it. But after that, what is the number of hostages taken by the Haqs, and how many have been killed? I do not know, and neither does Loyd - but it could have been the crucial opint that made the raid seem the lesser of two evils.
Many years ago I was the negotiating adviser to a family whose father had been kidnapped and, based on considerable experience, I had come to the grim conclusion that we were dealing with the most deadly combination you can come up against: a gang of first-timers with an exaggerated idea of how much money they could extort, and in a hurry because they lacked the organization and infrastructure for a long negotiation.
A nervous gang can kill a hostage by mistake, and a gang that does not intend to kidnap again has no reason to keep the hostage alive. Accordingly, I advised the family to get the police anti-terrorist squad involved, not something I would have done - not least because it made my own situation extremely precarious - unless convinced that a rescue offered the best chance of getting our man back alive.
The kidnappers were indeed a bunch of amateurs, and the police soon zeroed in on their hide-out. When they burst in, one of the kidnappers was sitting opposite the door inside a small room with the hostage, who was manacled to a steel-framed bed. He pulled the pin on a grenade, saying he would die rather than surrender.
The door into the room had a glass panel over it, and one of the SWAT squad brought up a chair, took a quick peek, then smashed the glass with his assault rifle and shot the scumbag in the head. The dead man, of course, let go of the spoon, but he also bounced off the back of the chair and fell forward on the grenade.
The hostage hurled himself to one side, pulling the bed over him, but one piece of shrapnel got through to wound him in the shoulder. It turned out to be part of the lower mandible of the kidnapper. Later, in hospital, he joked that he had become a Philistine, because he had been wounded by the jawbone of an ass-hole.
If the hostage had died, there was no doubt whom everybody would have blamed. It was a calculated risk, to which thankfully I never again judged it necessary to expose a client. But the memory of that fraught moment makes me very reluctant to criticise anyone else when, forced to make a similar choice, it goes bad on them.
I flat out deny the right even to an opinion, let alone a "strategic" judgement, to a journopuke sitting thousands of miles away, in possession of a bare minimum of facts and with no operational knowledge whatever.