Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been accused of jumping the gun and sacrificing the life of an Afghan interpreter by ordering a commando raid to rescue a British journalist from his Taliban kidnappers even as a deal to secure his release was believed to be imminent.

Stephen Farrell, a former Times (London) correspondent whose first foreign posting was in India and who now works for The New York Times, was rescued in a dramatic raid on Tuesday night hailed by Mr. Brown as an act of "breathtaking heroism''. But the deaths of his Afghan interpreter Sultan Munadi, one British soldier and at least two civilians provoked anger.

Local Afghan intermediaries, who were negotiating with the kidnappers, called the raid unwarranted claiming that they were already close to a deal. Western officials in Afghanistan echoed the criticism.

A Western diplomat, speaking to The Guardian, said that while negotiations were going on "MI5 charged in and, with next to zero knowledge of the local situation, decided to launch an operation'' resulting in unnecessary loss of lives.

While British officials insisted that the decision to mount the raid was taken following intelligence that the lives of the hostages were in imminent danger, Mr. Munadi's family denied there was any threat to his life.

Downing Street said the decision was taken by Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth although Prime Minister was consulted.

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