British aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan with 3 local colleagues

By Rahim Faiez, AP
Sunday, September 26, 2010

British aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — Four aid workers including a British woman were kidnapped in Afghanistan as election officials ordered recounts in seven provinces after last week’s parliamentary vote, raising further concerns of misconduct and fraud during the polls.

Meanwhile, two NATO troops, whose nationalities were not announced, were killed in a bomb attack in the volatile south, the alliance said Sunday.

The British aid worker and three Afghan colleagues were ambushed as they traveled in two vehicles in northeastern Kunar province. Police fought a gunbattle with the kidnappers near the attack site before the assailants fled, Kunar police chief Khalilullah Zaiyi said.

Steven O’Connor, communications director for Development Alternatives Inc., a global consulting company based in the Washington, D.C., area, said late Sunday its employees, including a British national, were involved.

The company works on projects for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan.

Britain’s Foreign Office in London said it could “confirm that a British national has been abducted in Afghanistan. We are working closely with all the relevant local authorities.”

NATO also said Sunday its forces killed five insurgents in a multi-day operation near the main southern city of Kandahar. Afghan and mostly U.S. forces have been readying the push — called “Operation Dragon Strike” — to drive out militants from the Taliban stronghold.

According to a NATO statement, the militants fought back with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. It said no Afghan or coalition troops were killed.

“We expect heavy fighting,” German Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a NATO spokesman, said Sunday.

The push in Kandahar is seen as key to the Obama administration’s strategy to turn around the nine-year war as insurgents undermine the ability of an Afghan government to rule much of the country.

President Hamid Karzai’s administration is also struggling to win public support amid widespread perceptions it is inept and corrupt.

The increasingly messy-looking election risks becoming another black mark against the government as allegations mount of misconduct and fraud. The charges — submitted by election observers and many of the 2,500 candidates vying for 249 seats in the national parliament — range from ballot-box stuffing, to people voting multiple times or using fake cards, to children voting.

A government anti-fraud elections watchdog said Sunday that is has received more than 3,500 complaints of cheating or misconduct — about 57 percent serious enough they could affect the outcome of the vote.

The election commission has released results slowly. Only seven of the country’s 34 provinces have posted even partial results and, eight days after the vote, no province has yet to announce results in full.

Commission chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi said they have already ordered recounts at several polling stations in seven provinces because the commission considered the provisional results — yet to be posted — “suspicious.” The provinces range from relatively peaceful Badakhshan in the north to volatile Khost and Logar in the east. He said the list of recounts was likely to grow.

But some candidates say the cheating that their observers saw was so egregious they can’t imagine a proper result emerging from the ballots submitted.

“The night before there was stuffing of the boxes. Then the night after they were stuffing the boxes,” said Khaled Pashtoun, an incumbent candidate in Kandahar province.

Pashtoun said while voting in Kandahar city was relatively fair because of the large presence security forces, abuses were rife in rural areas, including by police.

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the main independent Afghan observer group, has also been intensely critical. The group said they observed ballot-box stuffing in 280 voting sites in 28 provinces.

The Electoral Complaints Commission has just a few weeks to investigate and rule on the deluge of complaints. Final results are expected in late October, after the ECC rulings.

Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge in Kabul and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.

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