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Warning of Further Kidnappings Issued in Afghanistan

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Security experts are warning more abductions of reporters and other foreign personnel are likely in the war-torn country, following the kidnapping and controversial rescue of a British journalist in Afghanistan. 

The alert was issued after the kidnapping and rescue of a New York Times reporter in Kunduz province.  Another correspondent for the same newspaper was kidnapped outside Kabul last December and escaped his captors seven months later, after being taken to Pakistan.   

News about the two kidnappings was initially withheld from the public while authorities worked to secure the release of the reporters.

Risk consultant John Drake, of the British security company AKE, predicts several more such incidents will take place this year in Afghanistan.

"The security situation has not improved in the country over recent weeks," he said.  "And it looks like it is only going to get worse with no strong imposition of security or authority even after the election."

Security consultants say a foreigner gets kidnapped, on average, once every other month in the country, with ransom payments for their release reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In its just-issued warning,  AKE says members of the press remain most at risk, but all foreign personnel, including investors and business travel, also are potential targets.

AKE's Drake, speaking to VOA from Aberdeen, Scotland, says the Taliban and other groups have dual political and financial objectives by kidnapping correspondents and other foreigners.

"A lot of groups want to send a strong message to foreign governments by targeting foreign nationals who are operating in the country - the strategy being to convince the general public of coalition nations that their armies and armed forces should not be in Afghanistan," he said. "But a lot of groups that are responsible for the abductions are also very keen in obtaining ransom. It's a very lucrative source of money.  It is a major business in Afghanistan."

New York Times correspondent Stephen Farrell was freed unharmed by British commandos Wednesday.  Farrell's Afghan colleague, Sultan Munadi, was killed during the operation, along with one of the commandos, and an Afghan woman and a child who were caught in the cross fire.

Farrell, who has dual British-Irish citizenship, had been kidnapped once previously while on assignment in Iraq. 

The rescue operation to free him, approved at the highest levels of the British government, is being criticized in both Kabul and London amid reports that the captives were close to being freed through negotiations.
 
The Media Club of Afghanistan is blaming NATO forces for the death of their respected colleague, although it remains unclear whether Munadi was shot by the commandos or the Taliban.

Journalist Farhad Paykar, speaking on behalf of the organization, says international forces were reckless and demonstrated an inhumane double standard.

"There is no justification for the international forces to rescue their own national, and retrieve the dead body of their own soldier killed in action, and leave behind the dead body of Sultan Munadi in the area," said Paykar.

According to the U.S.-based Committee to Project Journalists, at least 17 foreign and Afghan journalists on duty in Afghanistan have been killed since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban from power.

More than 1,400 foreign troops have died while thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed by insurgents or as a result of military operations. 

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