Gunmen kidnap British engineer, kill 3 officers in Afghanistan
Violence expected to rise before vote
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Gunmen kidnapped a British engineer and his interpreter after attacking their convoy in western Afghanistan and killing three police officers guarding them, the latest in a string of assaults ahead of crucial elections, officials said yesterday.
US commanders in the volatile east, meanwhile, said they expect violence to spike a week before the Sept. 18 vote for a new legislature, but remain confident it will go ahead without major disruptions.
Militants have stepped up attacks over the past six months, leaving more than 1,100 people dead and raising fears that the fighting may disrupt the polls.
Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said the assault on the convoy occurred Wednesday on the main highway in the western province of Farah -- a region spared much of the violence that has wracked southern and eastern Afghanistan where Taliban-led rebels are more active.
He said no contact had been made with the kidnappers but blamed a criminal gang. The local police chief, Allah Uddin Noorzi, however, said he believed the abduction was the work of the Taliban.
A spokesman for the NATO-led peacekeeping force, Major Andrew Elmes, confirmed that a Briton -- who was not identified -- had been abducted and said, ''We are now standing by ready to give any assistance." He said NATO troops have set up checkpoints in the area and were searching for signs of the abducted pair.
Noorzi said the Briton was working for a foreign company refurbishing the road from the southern city of Kandahar to the western city of Herat. A Filipino employee of the company escaped and was later found hiding under a bridge, he said.
The Interior Ministry spokesman said three police officers who were guarding the convoy were killed and their bodies had been found inside one of two bullet-ridden pickups.
The kidnappings occurred just weeks after a Lebanese engineer building a road in southern Afghanistan was abducted. He was released days later unhurt.
US and Afghan troops have gone on the offensive in recent weeks and, despite the upsurge in ambushes, kidnappings, and other attacks, say they are confident they have enough security forces in place to prevent major bloodshed on election day.