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South Korean Hostages

The Taliban abducted 23 South Korean aid workers, 18 of whom are women, last Thursday. The group reportedly boarded a local bus in Kandahar headed for Kabul, and were kidnapped at gunpoint in Ghazni province, just south of their final destination. Independent travel in the southern provinces is highly discouraged since a series of kidnappings in that area have made international headlines all too frequently in the last six months. The women apparently disguised themselves in Burkhas, hoping to go unnoticed, but this move is something akin to playing Russian roulette.

Taliban are on the lookout for foreign nationals to kidnap and try to force negotiations for the release of their prisoners. This past spring the Italian government cut a deal with the Afghan government to release five Taliban prisoners in exchange for captured Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. It was feared that this unorthodox transaction would only encourage more abductions, and that seems all the more true today.

A friend of mine suggested the Koreans were asking for trouble, and that perhaps they did this on purpose so as to have a reason to withdraw their forces. The discovery of the bullet-ridden body of one male South Korean today pretty much discounts that theory, however. The South Korean government has some 200 troops under the command of the US army, most of whom are doing medical and aid work. A withdrawal is scheduled for the end of this year.

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