Gunmen kidnap Dutch aid worker and Afghan driver

In August, 10 members of a Christian medical team were killed by gunmen.

Kabul: Gunmen seized a Dutch aid worker and his Afghan driver in northern Afghanistan on Monday, a local government official said.

Four gunmen took the two men out of their car in Takhar province and drove them west toward neighbouring Kunduz province, said Takhar Governor Abdul Jabar Taqwa, quoting witnesses. The two were working with an aid group helping disabled people.

Police and intelligence officials are trying to track the group and the Kunduz authorities have been informed, Taqwa said.

Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Bart Rijs confirmed a Dutch man and his Afghan driver had been kidnapped, but gave few details and did not release the names of the men or the aid group.

"Our embassy in Kabul is in constant contact with the Afghan authorities and the Netherlands will support the Afghan authorities wherever necessary and possible to bring this case to a positive conclusion," Rijs said.

Afghanistan is becoming increasingly dangerous for aid workers. In August, 10 members of a Christian medical team — six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton — were ambushed and later killed by gunmen in neighboring Badakhshan province. The team was attacked as they were returning to Kabul after their two-week mission in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan province, about 160 miles (260 kilometers) north of Kabul.

Last month, Linda Norgrove, a British aid worker, was kidnapped in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. She died of head and chest injuries caused by a grenade thrown by a US serviceman during a failed Oct. 8 rescue attempt.

The kidnappings, along with Afghan President Hamid Karzai`s intention to ban foreign security guards, has led to talk of a large-scale operations shutdown by private reconstruction companies.

Monday`s abductions were also a further indication of the growing instability in northern Afghanistan, which had been considered safer than areas of the south and east where the insurgency has been fiercest.

In the south on Monday, insurgents attacked NATO and Afghan troops hunting for a senior Taliban leader in Helmand province. The gunbattle and a subsequent airstrike killed 15 insurgents, NATO said, although a local official initially reported a higher death toll.

Around a dozen gunmen on motorcycles fired on the international forces as they were preparing to destroy a bomb-making factory and weapons cache they found during a search of several compounds in the village of Maigan. Troops killed them and then called in the airstrike to destroy the compounds.

All that was left standing were two walls and one small room of a mosque, said Salah Ayap, a 26-year-old driver in the village.

Residents were digging the dead from under the rubble with farming tools and washing them for burial, he said.

"People are very angry," Ayap said, adding that a 10-year-old child was among several civilians wounded.

NATO said they had no report of a mosque damaged or any civilians injured or killed.

Last year, NATO tightened the rules of engagement, including the use of airstrikes, if civilians were at risk. Civilian deaths attributed to allied troops have since dropped by nearly 30 percent.

NATO and Afghan troops have been trying to wrest back control of the southern provinces near the border with Pakistan from the Taliban since July, but attacks and roadside bombs still occur daily.

Most of the insurgency`s top commanders are believed to be hiding in the mountainous Pakistan border area. NATO has also been trying to kill or capture Taliban leaders in airstrikes and in joint ground operations with the Afghan army.

Residents say the push has resulted in patches of security in the south, but insurgents have stepped up attacks in other parts of the country, including the north, which has traditionally been more stable.

In the north on Monday, a suicide attacker blew up his explosives-laden car in Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, said Mahmood Akmal, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

The attacker died, but no one else was injured in the blast, which appeared to be targeting a coalition convoy, he said.

In the eastern province of Khost, a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle at a checkpoint, killing two civilians and a police officer, said provincial police chief Abdul Hakin Esaqzoy. He said five police and five civilians were also wounded.

Bureau Report