KABUL, Afghanistan - Two senior European diplomats left Afghanistan yesterday after the government expelled them over accusations that they held unauthorized meetings with Taliban militants, officials said.
The diplomats - one worked for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the other was the acting head of the European Union mission - had traveled to Musa Qala, a former Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province on Monday, where they met with local leaders, said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN mission.
After that trip, the two were accused of meeting with Taliban militants and were told to leave the country, according to officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, has said the two diplomats were "involved in some activities that were not their jobs."
An official at EU headquarters in Brussels confirmed that the EU official expelled is Michael Semple, deputy EU representative. Semple is Irish. The UN official, Mervyn Patterson, is British, from Northern Ireland.
The official, who spoke on condition he not be identified because of the sensitive nature of diplomatic relations, labeled the incident a "misunderstanding."
The Afghan government, and particularly Karzai, has voiced a growing interest in meeting with Taliban leaders to try to persuade them to join the government and put down their arms.
But the diplomats' expulsion will make some Western nations and international organizations wary of making their own overtures to the militants in an effort to end the insurgency, which has left over 6,300 people - mostly militants - dead this year alone.
William Wood, the US ambassador in Afghanistan, called the issue a "misunderstanding" rising from apparent lack of coordination with the Afghan government.
"I am absolutely confident that the European Union and the United Nations were acting with absolutely the best of intentions. They are good friends of Afghanistan," Wood told a news conference in Kabul.
But talking to the Taliban or their supporters in order to bring them to the government's side "is a particularly difficult field which requires particularly close communication, particularly close dialogue [with the government] and apparently that did not take place," he said.
British, Afghan and US forces retook Musa Qala earlier this month from Taliban militants, who had held it since last February. Afghan and Western officials moved quickly into the town to extend governance to an area where the Taliban had run its own court system and collected taxes.