KABUL - Two female foreign aid workers and their two Afghan colleagues were rescued in a pre-dawn raid Saturday after being held by militants for 11 days in a cave in northern Afghanistan, the U.S.-led military coalition said.
The women — Helen Johnston and Moragwe Oirere — and the two Afghans were kidnapped on May 22 in Badakhshan province. The four work for Medair, a humanitarian non-governmental organization based near Lausanne, Switzerland.
U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that coalition forces conducted the rescue mission with the support of the Afghan Ministry of Interior. Afghan officials said seven militants were killed during the operation, which was launched around 1 a.m. Saturday.
Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a coalition spokesman, said a helicopter rescue team reached the scene before dawn and confirmed that the hostages were there.
"The kidnappers were armed with heavy machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s," Cummings said. "They were kidnapped by an armed terrorist group with ties to the Taliban."
The aid workers appeared to be in good health, but they will be evaluated before being reunited with their families, he said.
Shams ul-Rahman, the deputy governor of Badakhshan province, said the hostages were being held in Gulati, a village in Shahri Buzurg district. It is a mountainous and forested area near the Tajikistan border in extreme northern Afghanistan about 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the district centre.
"Mostly smugglers are based in those areas, but of course the smugglers have the support of the Taliban," Rahman said.
He said Afghan elders in the area had worked to seek the release of the aid workers.
"A group of elders was about to go to the village and start negotiations," Rahman said. "Based on intelligence reports that Afghan forces received, a successful operation was conducted that resulted in the release of the hostages and the killing of the kidnappers."
Elsewhere, four Afghan policemen were killed in two explosions Friday evening and Saturday morning in southern Afghanistan.
Both attacks involved bombs hidden in motorcycles that exploded as police vehicles were passing by in Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, said Gulab Khan, the director of the criminal investigation department in the province. Each attack killed two policemen. Two other policemen were wounded in Saturday's blast, he said.
Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.