KABUL: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) special forces rescued two foreign women hostages and killed five kidnappers in a daring night raid on a cave in Afghanistan’s remote Badakhshan province, the military said Saturday.
The women, who worked for Swiss-based charity Medair, were named as Helen Johnston and Moragwe Oirere. Two Afghan colleagues kidnapped with them on May 22 were also freed unharmed.
All are well and in good condition, Afghan officials told AFP.
“The mission to rescue the hostages was launched in the early hours of today under cover of darkness with the assistance of helicopters,” a spokesman for NATO’S International Security Assistance Force said.
“The hostages were being held in a cave in the mountains.”
The victims were seized at gunpoint on May 22 while travelling on horseback to relief project sites in the remote and mountainous province of Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan.
They worked for the Swiss-based charity, Medair, which requested restraint in reporting on the kidnap, saying publicity could only jeopardise efforts the secure the relief of their staff.
It is not known what demands the kidnappers had made.
Efforts to obtain comment from the charity Saturday were not immediately successful.
Afghan officials earlier attributed the rescue to Afghan special forces and said three Afghans were among the hostages rescued.
“Last night in a successful operation Afghan special forces freed two foreign and three Afghan hostages in Shahri Buzurg, Badakhshan,” Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, spokesman for security forces in northern Afghanistan, told AFP.
“Five kidnappers were killed during the operation. The hostages are in good condition,” he said.
ISAF commander General John R Allen thanked the Afghan interior ministry for its “tremendous support throughout this crisis”.
He said the mission “exemplifies our collective and unwavering commitment to defeat the Taliban”.
“I’m extremely grateful to the Afghan authorities and proud of the ISAF forces that planned, rehearsed, and successfully conducted this operation.
“Thanks to them, Ms Helen Johnston, Ms. Moragwe Oirere, and their two co-workers will soon be rejoining their families and loved ones.”
Badakhshan is an impoverished and mountainous province in Afghanistan’s far northeast, and while mainly quiet, there have been pockets of insurgent activity.
Both criminals and Taliban insurgents waging a war against the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai have been responsible for kidnappings in the past, but Allen’s comment suggests that the kidnappers in this case were Taliban.
In August 2010, the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing a group of eight medical aid workers in Badakhshan, claiming they were “Christian missionaries”.
The rescue shows the vital importance of NATO’s air power and highly-skilled special forces in the war against the Taliban. But the alliance will be pulling its combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and is training Afghan forces to take over responsibility for security.