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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 July 2007, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Tracking the Taleban's kidnap tactics
By Daud Qarizadah
BBC News, Kabul

The hostages posed for a group photo before they left South Korea for Afghanistan
The South Korean aid workers who have been taken hostages
Foreigners in Afghanistan have rarely been targets of kidnappings in the past.

But all that changed some four years ago, when a Turkish engineer was abducted by the Taleban in the south.

In subsequent years, the kidnapping of foreigners has become more common, and in recent months there has been an unprecedented increase in the practice.

Foreign aid workers and journalists have been seized, as well as Afghans working with foreign organisations.

Earlier in July, the Taleban seized 23 South Koreans - most of them female Christian workers - hostage in Ghazni, south-west of Kabul. The bodies of two male hostages have so far been found.

The Taleban want the release of eight of their members from jail, and say more hostages will be killed if their demands are not met.

'Successful policy'

A Taleban commander has called the abduction of foreigners, to be traded for Taleban prisoners, "a very successful policy".

Afghan officials acknowledge that the Taleban insurgents are using kidnappings as a useful tool of pressure against the Western-backed government of Hamid Karzai.

The kidnappers have usually demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces, the release of Taleban prisoners and ransom in exchange for their hostages.

The Afghan government has also been under tremendous pressure from foreign governments in securing the safe release of the hostages belonging to their countries.

Daniele Mastrogiacomo
Daniele Mastrogiacomo thought he would be killed

One of the most talked-about kidnappings was early this year, when Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo was abducted along with two Afghans - his driver and a young journalist who worked as his interpreter.

The Italian government is believed to have put huge pressure on President Karzai to get Mr Mastrogiacomo released, and at one point even threatened to withdraw the 2,000 Italian troops from Afghanistan.

Mr Mastrogiacomo was released in a much-criticised exchange for five senior Taleban prisoners, including the brother of the Taleban commander, Mullah Dadullah, who was killed shortly afterwards. But the two Afghans were beheaded.

'Cutting deals'

In a separate case, a substantial ransom was said to have been paid to release another Italian hostage, Gabriele Torsello, a London-based photographer.

The governments of Afghanistan and Italy have been criticised for the way they dealt with the Taleban in securing the release of these hostages.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had called on member states to draft common rules on how to deal with hostage-taking.

Observers believe cutting "deals" to secure the release of hostages have only helped the Taleban.

Two foreign nationals who were kidnapped by the Taleban in April
Some foreigners 'ignore' the risk of being kidnapped
The Afghan interior ministry says the number of kidnappings could be reduced if potential targets sought advice before their journeys and co-ordinated their security arrangements with the police.

Officials are putting the blame mainly on the carelessness of foreigners and Afghans working with foreign organisations.

"Look at the nationals of South Korea. They hired a bus to travel from Kabul to Kandahar without seeking advice from the government about the security situation," says Zamarai Bashari, interior ministry spokesman.

"We cannot travel that route without a convoy of security personnel. We know the security threat is high and the insurgents have taken root in areas along the road," he said.

"So the kidnappings are partly blamed for the insecurity and mainly for the carelessness of foreigners who are considered soft but important targets."

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