Longest held Western hostages in Afghanistan

30th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Multiple reasons conspired to make French journalists Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier the longest held Western hostages in Afghanistan until their release on Wednesday after 18 months.


They were kidnapped at gunpoint on December 30, 2009 in Kapisa province, to the northeast of the capital Kabul.

It is volatile, remote and craggy mountain terrain infested with armed rebel groups, principally the Taliban and the Hezb-e-Islami faction of legendary mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Power changes hands from village to village and from valley to valley, complicating efforts to negotiate hostages' release.

French soldiers based in the area since 2008 call the area a "black hole" that previously fell through the gaps of international military command.


The journalists from France 3 television ventured alone into Kapisa with three Afghan colleagues in order to shoot footage to compliment a programme begun weeks earlier with French troops.

The fact that they were kidnapped in an area where French troops are responsible for security complicated negotiation attempts as the kidnappers and their supporters sought to fight back against French military pressure.

With France increasingly dragged into the conflict and fighting on behalf of NATO, the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies came to see France as US allies and therefore an enemy, as pointed out by Osama bin Laden in a message broadcast in January, four months before he was killed in Pakistan.


Experts predicted the French hostage would be held only a few weeks, believing that a quick agreement would be reached with the local Taliban who captured them.

But as time passed, the matter fell into the hands of the Taliban high command, believed to be based in Pakistan, who treat each Western hostage as a bargaining chip not to be given up lightly, dragging out negotiations.


In April the Taliban threatened to kill the hostages unless Paris persuaded Kabul and Washington to agree to a prisoner exchange. Afghan officials said the Kabul government was extremely reluctant to do so.

© 2011 AFP

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