American aid worker is kidnapped in Afghanistan
Motives of the gunmen are unclear
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Gunmen kidnapped an American aid worker and her driver in southern Afghanistan's largest city early yesterday, snatching the woman from a residential neighborhood as she was on her way to work.
Cyd Mizell worked in Kandahar for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation. Jeff Palmer, the aid group's international director, said the group had not been contacted by the kidnappers and he did not know their identity or demands.
Asadullah Khalid, the provincial governor, blamed the kidnappings on the "enemy of Islam and the enemy of Afghanistan." Khalid said the 49-year-old American was wearing a burqa when she was taken.
Several foreigners, including 23 South Koreans, two German construction workers, and two Italian journalists, have been kidnapped in Afghanistan in the last year, but kidnappings of Americans are rare. The kidnappings have been blamed on Taliban insurgents and criminal gangs seeking ransom.
Palmer said Mizell has worked for the development foundation on income-generating women's projects in Kandahar for three years. Mizell's last known American address was Acworth, Ga.
"It is our hope that our worker will be released safely and quickly and we are doing all that we can to resolve the situation," Palmer said.
"This is a first for our organization and we're really praying for a quick resolution."
Mohammad Gul, a professor at Kandahar University, said Mizell also taught English language lessons at the university and embroidery lessons at a girl's school.
Gul said she speaks the local language, Pashtu, well and that if Afghans asked about her background she would say she was from the Alakozai tribe, a well-known Pashtun tribe in the Kandahar region.
"She is a very patient and calm woman," Gul said.
Traveling around Kandahar city has turned increasingly dangerous in the last year, as the Taliban insurgency has spread throughout southern Afghanistan.
Western civilians who operate there often travel with armed guards and with extreme caution. The area is rife with Taliban militants and also with criminals linked to the country's booming opium poppy trade.
A Taliban spokesman said he had no immediate information that the Islamic militia was behind the kidnappings.
In a what seemed like a plea to the woman's captors, Khalid said that Mizell respected Afghan traditions by wearing the burqa, a traditional garment that covers the entire body, and speaking the local languages. She did not travel with armed guards, he said.
Projects run by the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation are located around the city of Kandahar and include food for work, irrigation rehabilitation, healthcare, and restoration projects, according to the group's website. The group also has projects in Vietnam, China, Burma, and Sri Lanka.
One of the most prominent hostage takings by the Taliban in Afghanistan was the seizure in July of 23 South Koreans, mostly women. The women were released after South Korea reiterated its pledge to withdraw its force of 200 troops from Afghanistan by the end of last year. Two male hostages were killed.
American troops are fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in the country's east, which borders Pakistan. The number of attacks in the Afghan border areas has decreased recently, as militants step up assaults on Pakistani forces across the frontier.
One member of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan was killed Friday as coalition forces and government troops clashed with insurgents near the Pakistani border.
Troops called in airstrikes, which "destroyed an insurgent cell" after the clash in Nari district of Kunar province, a coalition statement said.
The nationalities of the dead and three wounded soldiers were not released. Most of the troops in that area are American. An Afghan soldier and an interpreter working for the coalition were wounded, the statement said. It did not say how many suspected militants were killed.
In a separate development, Britain defended its forces against comments by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in which he reportedly accused them of making the security situation in the country's volatile south worse.
According to The Times of London, Karzai was quoted as telling journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday that mistakes by Britain and the United States allowed the Taliban to make inroads in Helmand province.
"Both the American and the British forces guaranteed to me they knew what they were doing and I made the mistake of listening to them," Karzai was quoted as saying.
Karzai accused Britain and the United States of setting the security situation in Helmand back 18 months by dismissing the province's governor without having a proper replacement ready, the report said.
He also said forces did not come to Helmand in sufficient numbers and did not have enough information about the province.
Britain's Foreign Office rejected the accusation, saying its policy was to work in consultation with Karzai's government.
"Our strategy in Helmand has been to work with the Afghan government to extend their authority throughout the province, creating a secure environment which allows political and economic development," a spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with ministry practice.