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A United States special operations member was killed during a weekend rescue mission in Afghanistan that freed an American doctor, raising questions about the safety of aid workers in the region as it prepares for a drawdown of US combat troops by 2014.
Dr. Dilip Joseph, a US citizen, and two others who work for a faith-based nonprofit organization, were captured by Taliban on Dec. 5 while they were returning from a rural health clinic outside the capital, Kabul.
The early Sunday raid that successfully rescued Dr. Joseph, a three-year employee of the Morning Star Development, an organization in Colorado Springs, Colo., came after 3-1/2 days of negotiations that reportedly included demands for a $100,000 ransom, according to the Colorado Springs' Gazette newspaper.
The rescue highlights the fact that, despite international efforts to control violence, kidnappings for ransom are still a frequent and lucrative business in the area, Foreign policy reports.
Much of the threat is simply criminal. There is a burgeoning kidnapping industry in Afghanistan, part of the conflict economy that has been fed by tens of billions of dollars the international forces and community have pumped into the country since 2001. Most kidnappings end either in the payment of a ransom or the death of the hostage, and ransoms for foreigners can approach half a million dollars – though it's wealthy Afghans who are most often the victims.
Joesph and the other two local Morning Star Development staff members were kidnapped on Dec. 5 by a group of armed men while returning from a visit to one of the organization’s rural medical clinics in eastern Kabul Province. They were eventually taken to a mountainous area about 50 miles from the Pakistani border.
It was not clear who was behind the kidnapping. Although US sources told NPR that seven members of the Taliban were killed in the raid, some Afghans believe the kidnappers were smugglers, according to CNN.
According to Morning Star Development’s website, negotiations began almost immediately and led to the release of two other employees on Saturday. About 11 hours later, after intelligence reports indicated the situation was life-threatening, the special forces team moved in.
According to Fox News, the special forces member who was killed was part of the Navy SEAL Team Six – the same special operations group used for the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, though it's unknown if he took part in that raid last year.
President Obama issued a statement about the fallen solider, saying that "he and his teammates remind us once more of the selfless service that allows our nation to stay strong, safe, and free."
The doctor's family reportedly paid a $12,000 ransom for his release, but Morning Star Development stressed that it had not paid anything for ransom.
The Gazette described the Morning Star Development organization as a “lower-profile faith-based organization in Colorado Springs.”
Its founder, Daniel Batchelder of Colorado Springs, told The Gazette in 2010 that the organization “does evangelical work in countries where the law permits. In Afghanistan, where Islam is the predominant religion, employees refrain from proselytizing."
Though Morning Star Development, which was created in 2002, had just seven employees in Colorado Springs in 2010, the nonprofit has a rather large overseas budget.
It employed 153 people in Afghanistan at one point, funded by an annual budget of about $900,000, according to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), an accreditation agency dedicated to funding transparency in Christian organizations. Approximately 90 percent of the budget is spent on community and economic development in the rural areas of Afghanistan.
Kidnappings in Afghanistan
Some recent high-profile kidnappings have ended with negotiations and release, but other aid workers have also been killed:
Two foreigners were reported missing in October by a provincial reconstruction team in volatile Wardak, west of Kabul, and were feared to have been kidnapped, Afghan police told Reuters, and investigation is reportedly underway. And in May, two Western female doctors working for a Swiss medical charity were kidnapped with two Afghan colleagues by gunmen in northeastern Afghanistan. They were later rescued by NATO special forces soldiers.
Last year, two French journalists were released after 547 days in Taliban captivity (see the Monitor report here). In 2010, a British aid worker was kidnapped and used as a bargaining chip to free neuroscientist Dr. Daafia Siddiqui. And in 2008, the Monitor reported on a group of 23 South Korean church volunteers who were kidnapped in southern Afghanistan. Two were killed before the others were released.