Two Britons detained in Afghanistan: London

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British forces have detained two British nationals in Afghanistan, authorities in London said Thursday, amid reports they were suspected of plotting against Britain or fighting with the Taliban.

"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.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman added: "We can confirm that two British nationals have been detained in Afghanistan."

Neither ministry would say what they were suspected of doing, amid differing reports in the British media.

The Times reported that the two men, who have dual nationality, were arrested at a hotel near the Iranian border as part of a counter-terrorism raid to thwart a possible attack against British interests.

After the dramatic swoop at the International Trade Centre hotel in the city of Herat, helped by members of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence service, they were taken into custody in Helmand, it said.

A senior Afghan official, who declined to be named, told the paper: "The British asked for our help to arrest these two individuals. The NDS was providing logistical support."

The official said the individuals were "not Afghans", adding: "It was terrorism-related. It was a UK-led operation."

Questioned about the report, a spokesman for the NDS, Lutfullah Mashal, told AFP: "We are not aware, we are not involved." The Interior Ministry also denied knowledge of the case and said it was not holding the men.

The Sun newspaper and the BBC reported that the Britons held were suspected of fighting for the Taliban.

The Sun said two men wearing Afghan dress were arrested in Helmand, and were being held at a military base.

A source told the newspaper: "Helmand is not a holiday destination. The authorities will be very concerned they were wandering about. The first thing they will want to know is what they were doing here."

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.

Britain has about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan as part of international forces fighting the Taliban insurgency.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced earlier this month that Britain would withdraw 500 troops by the end of next year, 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.

© 2011 AFP

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