British aid worker kidnapped; NATO forces begin push in Kandahar

By Eric Talmadge, AP
Monday, September 27, 2010

British aid worker kidnapped; push in Kandahar

KABUL, Afghanistan — British officials are in contact with the family of a British aid worker abducted in Afghanistan and are urgently trying to resolve the matter, they said Monday, as NATO forces stepped up pressure on insurgents in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar.

Tim Waite, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Kabul, said Monday that officials were working closely with all relevant local authorities and said the worker’s family had been contacted.

The British aid worker and three Afghan colleagues were ambushed as they traveled in two vehicles in northeastern Kunar province. Police fought a gunbattle with the kidnappers near the attack site before the assailants fled, Kunar police chief Khalilullah Zaiyi said.

Steven O’Connor, communications director for Development Alternatives Inc., a global consulting company based in the Washington, D.C., area, said late Sunday its employees, including a British national, were involved.

The company works on projects for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan.

Britain’s Foreign Office in London said it could “confirm that a British national has been abducted in Afghanistan.”

Also, NATO said it has begun the “kinetic,” or combat, phase of “Operation Dragon Strike,” a joint military push with Afghan forces around Kandahar City intended to rid the area of insurgents and interrupt their ability to move freely and stage attacks.

“It is a significant ground operation with air support,” German Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a NATO spokesman, said in a news conference Sunday. “We expect heavy fighting.”

“Afghanistan and coalition forces are destroying Taliban positions so they will have nowhere to hide,” Blotz said. “Once this is done, insurgents will be forced to leave the area or fight and be killed.”

NATO said its forces have killed five insurgents in the multiday operation near the main southern city of Kandahar. According to a NATO statement, the militants have fought back with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. It said no Afghan or coalition troops have been killed in the operation.

The push in Kandahar is seen as key to the Obama administration’s strategy to turn around the nine-year war as insurgents undermine the ability of an Afghan government to rule much of the country. Kandahar remains particularly volatile — seven U.S. troops have been killed in Kandahar this month. Another three have been killed in the south, but no further details have been released.

Also in the east, NATO confirmed an airstrike following a cross-border attack on an Afghan National Security Force outpost in Khost province, near Pakistan, on Friday killed more than 30 insurgents. A follow-up on Saturday resulted in several more insurgents killed. It said there were no NATO casualties.

It said that insurgents were attacked under the rules of engagement in the cross-border skirmish. It did not give further details. It is unusual for NATO helicopters to attack targets on the Pakistan side of the border, where some of the casualties are believed to have occurred.

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