Kidnap threat to US citizens in Afghanistan remains high, says US embassy

12/10/2017

On 21 September, the US embassy in Kabul circulated a security message warning US citizens to remain vigilant, owing to the ‘very high’ kidnap threat in the country. Although the message could not be attributed to any specific intelligence or incident, it further emphasises that Afghanistan remains high on the list of countries where kidnapping is most likely.

NYA24 assesses the threat of kidnapping in Afghanistan as severe, and one of the most dangerous for travellers globally. Although locals are targeted in the majority of recorded incidents in the country, organised criminal groups and Islamist extremists frequently plot to kidnap foreign nationals. Despite overt policies against the funding of terrorism (which by definition includes the payment of ransoms to proscribed groups) in countries such as the UK and US, many Islamist extremists in Afghanistan understand that international prohibitions do not stop other countries from paying ransoms for their citizens.

On 14 September, a Finnish aid worker who had been abducted from a guest house in Kabul in May was released. Finland’s foreign minister denied that a ransom was paid to secure her release, however Finland is known to have paid ransoms to proscribed groups in the past.

APPEALING TARGETS

Foreign nationals also make an appealing target for kidnappers in Afghanistan due to their propaganda value. Abduction of a foreign national normally attracts greater attention from international media, and therefore naturally assumes greater political leverage for groups with a political or religiously radical agenda.

On 12 October Pakistani soldiers reported they had freed a North American family of five who were being held by the Afghan Taliban. According to the Pakistanis, the family were rescued following a US tip-off near the Afghan border. Although the family were not named, Canadian Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman, a US national, were abducted while backpacking through Afghanistan in 2012. They are believed to have had children while in captivity.

The Afghan Taliban and their allies are still believed to be holding several foreign nationals including a US university professor abducted in August 2016 along with his Australian colleague. Occasionally, local kidnap gangs ‘sell’ high-value hostages to groups such as the Haqqani network. This can be for a variety of reasons, but usually because they can realise at least part of the value of their victims whilst reducing their susceptibility to detection and arrest.