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NATO Troops Free Kidnapped Reporter

KUNDUZ (Reuters) -- NATO troops released a kidnapped British reporter for "The New York Times" in northern Afghanistan in a commando raid before dawn on September 9, but his Afghan interpreter was killed.

Reporter Stephen Farrell was abducted on September 5 along with Afghan colleague Mohammad Sultan while attempting to visit the scene of a NATO air strike that killed scores of Afghans in the north of the country.

"New York Times" spokeswoman Diane McNulty confirmed early on September 9 that Farrell had been released and Sultan killed.

Abdul Waheed Omarkheil, district chief of Char Dara district in Kunduz Province, site of last the September 4 air strike, said Farrell had been released in a pre-dawn raid by NATO troops. An Afghan woman was killed during the raid in the house where the two men were being held, he added.

Mohammad Nabi, a resident of the district, said Taliban fighters with the two captives had stayed at his house that night after demanding shelter. He said NATO forces arrived by helicopter and killed his sister-in-law during their raid.

Body Found Outside House

The troops left with Farrell, but not his Afghan colleague, whose body was found outside the house in the morning, Nabi told Reuters.

"Last night, a group of Taliban in two vehicles came to my house saying they needed shelter. We took them to our guest house. There was a foreign journalist and an Afghan translator with them," Nabi said.

"At midnight, U.S. helicopters came, dropping off soldiers. A clash broke out and then the soldiers blew open the door of my house, killing my sister-in-law, and took the reporter away with them."

An official with the NATO-led force confirmed that Western and Afghan troops had freed Farrell, but had no information about Sultan. The British embassy declined to comment.

Farrell was the second "New York Times" journalist kidnapped in Afghanistan in less than a year. David Rohde was held in Afghanistan and Pakistan for seven months until June, when the newspaper says he escaped from captivity.

As in Rohde's case, Reuters and other Western news organisations refrained from reporting the capture of Farrell at the request of the newspaper, which believed it would improve his safety.