Two Britons detained in Afghanistan
Two British nationals have been detained in Afghanistan, officials in London said Thursday, reportedly as part of a counter-terrorism operation to stop a possible attack back home.
"We can confirm that British forces have detained two individuals in Afghanistan who claim to be British nationals," the Ministry of Defence said in a statement, while the Foreign Office also confirmed they were both British.
Both ministries refused to give any further details.
Media reports in Britain suggest that the men were arrested in Herat, a city in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran, as part of a joint operation between British and Afghan forces.
The Times newspaper said two men with dual nationality were arrested at the International Trade Centre hotel in Herat, in what it called an unprecedented counter-terrorism raid on Afghan soil.
British forces were helped by members of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence service, and later took the men into British custody in the southern province of Helmand, the newspaper said.
The operation was sparked by a suspected threat to British security, it said.
A senior Afghan official, who declined to be named, told the paper the arrested men were "not Afghans", adding: "It was terrorism-related. It was a UK-led operation."
The official added: "The British asked for our help to arrest these two individuals. The NDS was providing logistical support."
The BBC also reported that the men were picked up in Herat, saying they were believed to have travelled to Afghanistan from Britain, possibly to make contacts with a view to carrying out some kind of attack at home.
Mohammad Daud Yarzada, manager of the International Trade Centre hotel in Herat, denied the arrests were made in his hotel, telling AFP: "We strongly reject these reports and rumours. Nobody has been arrested from this hotel."
The Afghan interior ministry also denied all knowledge of the arrests, and a spokesman for the NDS, Lutfullah Mashal, told AFP: "We are not aware (of the situation), we are not involved."
NATO forces in Afghanistan normally hold suspects for a maximum of four days before releasing them or handing them over to the Afghan authorities, but a Foreign Office spokeswoman said this could be extended.
"The UK has a national policy of detaining beyond 96 hours in exceptional circumstances, in particular where it could provide information that could help protect our forces or the local population," she said.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced earlier this month that Britain would withdraw 500 troops by the end of next year, reducing its forces to about 9,000, but would keep soldiers there in a training role until at least 2023.
His announcement came a fortnight after President Barack Obama announced a big drawdown of US forces in the war-torn country.
News of the arrests Thursday came as NATO troops handed over control of security in Herat, although there is no suggestion of a link between the events.
Herat is the fourth of seven areas to transition to Afghan control this week, but critics say the timetable is politically motivated and not reflective of Afghan abilities to ward off the Taliban with violence at a 10-year high.
© 2011 AFP