KABUL, Afghanistan -- The U.S. military launched a formal investigation today into the failed attempt to rescue kidnapped British aid worker Linda Norgrove amid indications that she may have accidentally been killed by American troops rather than by her Taliban captors.
Norgrove, who had been the regional director of a U.S.-funded jobs program, was kidnapped by militants in eastern Afghanistan's restive Kunar Province on Sept. 26.
U.S. and British officials initially said that she died when one of her captors detonated an explosive device as American special operations forces closed in on the militants' hideout in Kunar on Friday.
But today, the U.S. military said it was no longer certain that Norgrove, 36, had been killed by the Taliban. Instead, military officials said that interviews with members of the rescue team and a subsequent review of surveillance footage from the attempt suggested that Norgrove may have been killed by the troops working to save her life.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said today at a news conference in London that evidence and interviews "suggest that Linda could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault."
Cameron said that he had personally authorized the rescue attempt because of fears that Norgrove was going to be passed up the terrorist chain, which would increase the already high risk that she would be killed.
"We were clear that Linda's life was in grave danger and the operation offered the best chance of saving her life," he said.
Cameron went out of his way to praise the U.S. military for its role in the botched rescue. He told reporters that Gen. David Petraeus, the top NATO commander here, treated her as if she were a U.S. citizen, and thanked the rescuers for their courage and for risking their own lives on behalf of the kidnapped aid worker.
The comments were likely an attempt to prevent the British public from blaming the United States for Norgrove's death. The Afghan war is increasingly unpopular within the United Kingdom, and many Britons remain angry over a botched rescue mission last year which freed a kidnapped New York Times reporter but led to the deaths of an Afghan hostage and one of the British commandos who had taken part in the assault.
The new probe into the circumstances of Norgrove's death will be led by Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, a two-star general from the U.S. Special Operations Command, whose forces led the failed rescue. U.S. officials said the investigation team will work closely with U.K. authorities.
The flap over Norgrove's death comes amid a sustained run-up in Taliban violence against Western and Afghan humanitarian workers, who had long been largely left alone by the militants but now find themselves being singled out for attack. In early August, for instance, nine Western medical aid workers were killed in northern Afghanistan, one of the deadliest such attacks since the start of the war in October 2001.