Hostage negotiators expressed shock and anger at Gordon Brown’s decision to approve a commando raid to free a kidnapped British journalist, saying that they were within days of securing his release through peaceful means.

Stephen Farrell — who was in Afghanistan for The New York Times — was not harmed in the raid but his Afghan translator, Sultan Munadi, and a British soldier from the Special Forces Support Group were killed. The men were being held at a house in Kharudi in northern Afghanistan. Just after midnight on Tuesday U.S. helicopters dropped British special forces and Afghan troops in the village. Taliban militants fled the house and a fierce battle ensued. At least one civilian and scores of militants were killed.

Defense sources said that intensive efforts had been made over the weekend to pinpoint the hostages and assess the strength of the Taliban presence. They said there were no guarantees that a negotiated deal would have led to Farrell’s release and that there were fears he could be moved. However, several sources in Kabul said that the captors were, at worst, seeking a ransom. A Western source involved in the talks said: “There was no immediate urgency that they were going to be beheaded or handed over to another group. You cannot move them easily. It’s a very isolated area.”

Another Western official said: “It was totally heavy-handed. If they’d showed a bit of patience and respect they could have got both of them out without firing a bullet. Instead, they ended up having one of their own killed, the Afghan killed and civilians killed. There’s a lot of p****d-off people at the moment.”

The negotiations had begun within 24 hours of the kidnapping last week.The Interior Minister had persuaded 300 local elders to intercede with the kidnappers, saying that the hostages were just journalists doing their job. Mudani’s uncle had established communications with the provincial Taliban commander. An Afghan who spoke with the local commander said: “I think we could have got them out peacefully, maybe in a few days.”