Two French nationals are reportedly being held by Taliban militants in the Helmand province, in southwestern Afghanistan, the hotbed of the Taliban insurgency. Purported Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi claims the two French nationals along with their Afghan colleagues are in a Taliban-administered “safe house” and are in good health. This latest kidnapping incident comes just three weeks after Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, another Taliban kidnap victim, was released in a controversial prisoner exchange for five Taliban militants.
The apparent increase in kidnappings targeting foreigners operating in Afghanistan, and specifically those of European descent, confirms the Taliban’s intention to pressure European leaders in altering their military and political commitment to the Afghanistan war.
In a new twist to the ongoing Taliban kidnapping campaign, it also appears two Afghan assistants accompanying the kidnapped French nationals assisted the Taliban in the kidnapping plot.
In a communiqué issued by Terre d’Enfance, the two French nationals and three Afghan assistants were en route from Nimroz to Farah province on Tuesday, April 3, 2007, when they went missing. The French nationals, a male and a female, were taken from Khash Rod district, an area on a highway that links Nimroz to the main western city of Herat. In what appears to be an attempt to blend in with Afghan society the French pair was dressed in traditional Afghan clothing. It also appears that the Afghan assistants in question provided all of the traditional dress to the two French nationals. Afghan police commander, Mohammad Daud Askaryar reports, “Their Afghan colleagues we suspect were involved had provided local dresses, a burqa for the woman and a turban for the man. They left Nimroz province in a very suspect manner and did not inform (Afghan) police about their trip.”
Controversial Prisoner Swap Leads To Increased Demands
In a highly controversial decision on March 19, 2007, President Karzai released five Taliban militants in exchange for Mastrogiacomo’s life. In the hopes of attaining freedom for more of its colleagues, the Taliban had been holding Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi demanding more Taliban members be freed. However, not long after the exchange for Mastrogiacomo was concluded, facing intense international pressure, President Karzai announced his refusal to make any further prisoner exchanges and has ruled out any additional hostage deals with the Taliban. Karzai’s refusal to engage in further prisoner exchanges likely sealed Naqshbandi’s fate, as on April 9, 2007, the Taliban beheaded Naqshbandi, claiming the Karzai-led government had refused to meet its demands. It remains to be seen whether similar demands and subsequent refusals by the Karzai government will produce additional beheadings.
Kidnappings Will Continue In the Near Future
Foreign nationals continue to be targeted in Afghanistan. On April 4, 2007, the US Department of State issued an updated Travel Warning for Afghanistan highlighting the dangerous security situation for foreigners. The text of the warning states, “There is an ongoing threat to kidnap and assassinate US citizens and non-governmental organization (NGO) workers throughout the country.” The document lists a series of kidnappings throughout 2006 indicating the number of attacks in the south and southwestern areas of the country continue to rise.
In the Days to Come…
This latest kidnapping incident echoes what we reported on March 21, 2007, when we anticipated continued politically motivated kidnappings of European personnel by Taliban militants. Should exchanges similar to the Mastrogiacomo case continue to occur, insurgents will likely believe they have the upper hand when using abduction as a means of acquiring leverage. As a result, fears of new kidnappings are growing, with similar kidnapping incidents increasing. It remains true however that despite intensified targeting, European leaders must remain steadfast in their commitment to the Afghan incursion and their overall foreign policy initiatives. Policy changes would serve to encourage more politically motivated kidnappings. As the spring military campaign intensifies, we anticipate an upsurge in kidnappings targeting European nationals.
Finally, the possible involvement of Afghani workers assisting Taliban militants in kidnapping European counterparts poses significant challenges and could impact reconstruction efforts. This too will likely cause further consternation, and indeed a new challenge for European leaders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai alike.