Taliban releases 3 Afghan aid workers
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The Taliban on Sunday released three Afghan aid workers who had been kidnapped nearly two months ago, as the militant group announced a new operation targeting foreign and government forces.The three aid workers from the French group Terre d’Enfance – Mohammad Hashim and brothers Ghulam Rasul and Ghulam Azrat – were abducted April 3 along with two French colleagues in the southwestern province of Nimroz.The Taliban released the French woman, Celine Cordelier, on April 28, and the man, Eric Damfreville, on May 11.”The three Afghans who were detained with the two French aid workers have been released today in Nimroz province at the request of tribal leaders,” purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said Sunday.A brother of Rasul and Azrat, Abdul Wahab, said relatives and neighbors had gathered to greet the three hostages when they returned home.”They’re fine. They’re very happy. My brother Ghulam Rasul is holding his two sons, crying and kissing them. Ghulam Azrat is holding his two daughters, and crying happily, kissing them, as all the relatives watch,” Wahab said by telephone from Nimroz.”You know the Afghan tradition – we are going to buy sheep to slaughter them and to give to the poor” to celebrate their homecoming, Wahab said.In France, officials refused to say if a ransom had been paid.”I didn’t say that, or the contrary,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. “The big compensation is our happiness to have recovered the Afghans, as it was doubtless more difficult to free them than our compatriots.”After taking the Terre d’Enfance group captive, the Taliban demanded the withdrawal of all remaining French troops from Afghanistan. France pulled 200 French special forces out of Afghanistan late last year and still has about 1,000 troops stationed in the country.The French aid workers were kidnapped two weeks after Afghan authorities released five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian newspaper reporter who was abducted along with his two Afghan colleagues in southern Helmand province on March 5. The two Afghans were killed.Ahmadi also said the Taliban launched a new operation targeting government and foreign forces in Afghanistan, as at least nine Afghan security officials were killed.In southeastern Paktika province, the Taliban detonated several roadside bombs as a two-vehicle police convoy passed, then opened fire, killing six officers, said Ghamai Khan, a spokesman for the provincial governor.In the eastern province of Kunar, a roadside bomb killed three Afghan security guards working for the coalition, said provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Jalal Jalal.Ahmadi said by satellite phone from an undisclosed location that the Taliban will “start this operation today in all of Afghanistan.””In this operation, we will target our enemies and use our tactics – suicide bombs, remote-controlled (roadside bombs) and ambushes – against occupying forces and the government,” he said.After a winter lull in violence, militant attacks and military operations have surged. NATO and the U.S.-led coalition stepped up operations in the early spring, hoping to pre-empt a spring offensive by militants that threatened the already-shaky grip of President Hamid Karzai’s government.—Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Emmanuel Georges-Picot in Paris contributed to this report.