U.S. special forces soldiers conducting a daring nighttime operation freed a kidnapped American working for the Army Corps of Engineers – the first known hostage rescue by American forces in Afghanistan.
The American, who was abducted in mid-August, had been held in a growing insurgent stronghold 30 miles west of Kabul, U.S. military officials said. They said several insurgents were killed in last week's mission to free him.
Taliban militants have kidnapped dozens of international aid workers, journalists and other foreigners in recent years and have demanded large ransoms or the release of imprisoned Taliban fighters for their freedom. Increasingly aggressive crime syndicates have also raked in big money by kidnapping wealthy Afghans and foreigners and demanding ransoms.
Hostage rescues are rarely attempted and are difficult to pull off successfully. Only two such missions are known to have occurred, both in 2007. In one, both Italian captives were wounded in a raid by Italian commandos.
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Last week's rescue came to the attention of The Associated Press after a U.S. military official sought to bring its successful outcome into the public eye. Officials declined to reveal even the smallest detail or the captive's identity, saying they did not want to compromise military tactics or the man's safety.
Three U.S. military officials told the AP that special forces troops were able to locate the kidnapper's hideaway in the Nirkh district of Wardak province outside Kabul, but would not specify how.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
In the case of the rescued American, who had lived in Afghanistan for several years, it was not known whether any ransom demands were made. But a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan said growing insecurity imperils its work to rebuild the country.
“This guy didn't have any money at all. It was like a personal life mission for him to help others,” said Bruce Huffman, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan.
News of the rescue comes on the heels of the targeted killing Monday of a British-South African aid worker by Taliban gunmen who accused her of spreading her Christian faith.
“The hard reality is that more areas are insecure today than they were a year ago. There continues to be a wave of kidnapping — even in the last few days,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said Tuesday.
Khalilzad said attacks are up 30 percent this year.