The Taliban have detained 18 staffers, including a foreigner, from a nongovernmental organization based in Afghanistan, the nonprofit group said Friday.
NGOs have come under greater scrutiny since the Taliban seized control of the country two years ago. The Taliban introduced harsh measures and barred Afghan women from education beyond the sixth grade as well as from public life and work, including working for NGOs. A U.S. watchdog reported earlier this year that the Taliban are harassing NGOs operating in the country.
The International Assistance Mission said 18 of its staff were taken away by the Taliban on two separate occasions this month from the NGO’s office in central Ghor province. The 18 detained were taken to Kabul, the group said.
“We are unaware of the circumstances that led to these incidents and have not been advised of the reason for the detention of our staff members,” it said in a statement. “The well-being and security of our colleagues are paramount to us, and we are doing everything possible to ensure their safety and secure their swift release.”
Afghan officials were not available for comment.
Local media, quoting the provincial governor’s spokesperson, Abdul Wahid Hamas, said that the foreigner is a U.S. national and that the staff were detained for “propagating and promoting Christianity.”
The reports did not identify the supposed American staffer and the NGO did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press.
The State Department said it was aware of reports about the detention of a U.S. citizen. It urged U.S. nationals not travel to Afghanistan because of armed conflict, civil unrest, crime, terrorism and kidnapping.
“Travel to all areas of Afghanistan is unsafe and the risk of kidnapping or violence against U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is high,” it said in a statement. “We have no further details to share at this time.”
The nonprofit group, which is registered in Switzerland, says it only works in Afghanistan.