Navy SEAL Grenade Killed British Aid Worker: Reports

A senior military official tells me that a very preliminary investigation into the killing of British aid worker Linda Norgrove in Northern Afghanistan found that a U.S. Navy SEAL tossed a fragmentation grenade into the compound where Norgrove was being held, thinking it was a smoke grenade.

His team had entered the outer ring of the compound moments earlier.

The results of this first wash-down, conducted by the chief of staff of the U.S. Special Operations Command and its equivalent in Britain, have just begun to make its way up the chain of command. The SEAL, who sources would not identify, belonged to a detachment of that was the closest trained hostage rescue force to the compound. The U.S. and Britain had received intelligence indicating that Norgrove's captors intended to transfer the hostages across the border into Pakistan, or even kill them. The decision to mount a raid was jointly approved by the U.S. and Britain, according to the Guardian, which first reported the investigation's findings. A formal investigation has yet to begin.

The SEAL team, part of the Joint Special Operations Command, reports directly to CENTCOM commanding general James Mattis. JSOC's commander, Vice Admiral William McRaven, declined to comment today, citing the continuing investigation.

The Guardian reports that a video of the raid recorded by a U.S. surveillance drone appeared to show a SEAL drop something off the top of a hut he was standing on. Moments earlier, Norgrove had been moved there by her captors.

According to the military official, the SEAL told his commander that he intended to throw a smoke grenade.

NATO originally blamed the Taliban for Norgrove's death but immediately launched an investigation after commanders reviewed after-action reports. On Monday, President Obama spoke to British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Cameron was briefed on the initial investigation late yesterday.

The Navy's SEAL Team Six is trained to conduct hostage rescues, as are elements of the British Special Air Service and the Army's Compartmented Element, or Delta Force. Classified portions of the investigation are said to focus on the decision to use the SEAL element, which specializes in, well, maritime assaults and rescues.

A SEAL Team Six sniper team operating under direct orders from President Obama killed the Somali pirates who were holding captive the Maersk Alabama captive in early 2009.

Since the early days of the war in Afghanistan, using SEALs for direct action missions in Afghanistan has caused controversy within the Special Operations Command. But after nine years of such missions, including many successful hostage rescues that haven't been publicized, it's hard to argue that the SEALs were not prepared. The war has stretched the SEALs' capacity. Other units have taken on jobs that were traditionally performed by the SEALs. In September, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Maritime Raid Force's raided a cargo ship that was being held by Somali pirates and rescued its crew.