KABUL, Afghanistan – It was a risky but successful operation: British and other NATO forces stormed a cave tucked in the mountains before dawn Saturday and rescued two foreign female aid workers and their two Afghan colleagues being held hostage by Taliban-linked militants.
Helicopters, flying under the cover of darkness, ferried the rescue team to extreme northeastern Afghanistan where they suspected the hostages were being held. After confirming the workers were there, they raided the site, killed several militants and freed the hostages, ending their nearly two-week ordeal.
Helen Johnston, 28, from Britain, and Moragwa Oirere, 26, from Kenya, and their two Afghan colleagues were kidnapped on May 22 while traveling on horseback in Badakhshan province. The four work for Medair, a humanitarian nongovernmental organization based in Switzerland.
“They were kidnapped by an armed terrorist group with ties to the Taliban,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition fighting in Afghanistan. “The kidnappers were armed with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. … The hostages were being held in a cave in the mountains.”
Past rescue attempts in Afghanistan have not always gone so well.
In 2009, Sultan Munadi, an Afghan translator kidnapped alongside New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, was killed in a hail of bullets during a rescue attempt by British commandos. In 2010, the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 tried to rescue Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker, from her Taliban captors in Afghanistan. She was killed by a grenade thrown in haste by one of the American commandos.
Afghan officials said seven militants were killed during Saturday’s rescue operation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron approved the rescue operation Friday after becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of the hostages. The mission was carried out by British troops in cooperation with other NATO and Afghan forces.