Troops who rescued a kidnapped British journalist in Afghanistan could not recover the body of his interpreter because of heavy gunfire, a military official has said.
Stephen Farrell was captured last weekend as he reported on the aftermath of a Nato air strike in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, in which at least 70 people were killed.
The New York Times reporter was freed from his Taliban captors in a pre-dawn raid on Wednesday.
But the mission sparked controversy when it emerged four people were killed including Afghan interpreter Sultan Munadi — whose body was left behind — and British paratrooper Corporal John Harrison.
Mr Farrell was also criticised for reportedly ignoring warnings not to venture into the Taliban-controlled area where he was taken hostage.
An International Security Assistance Force official said the operation was launched because there were signs the kidnappers planned to move the two men and hand them over to higher-level insurgents.
British troops came under heavy fire as soon as their helicopters landed, he said. They had taken body armour for both Mr Farrell and Mr Munadi but when the forces found Mr Farrell he told them Mr Munadi had been killed.
Mr Munadi's body had to be left behind because the militant gunfire was so heavy, the official said.
The official, who asked not to be named, told the Associated Press: “People need to understand that it's not like we walked in and tried to save this one guy and leave the other behind.
“It was really heavy fire, and the risk wouldn't have been justified to recover a person they knew was already dead.”
Foreign Secretary David Miliband previously said the military operation to free the journalist took place because there was no better alternative.
But the raid prompted criticism from Afghan journalists amid claims that negotiators were close to a breakthrough.
Mr Munadi's father Karban Mohammed said his son called him 90 minutes before he was shot saying talks were going well and that he would soon be released. Mr Farrell claimed there had been an earlier attempt to free him when aerial activity increased and loud explosions could be heard.
He and Mr Munadi were then bundled to a different location by their captors.