Photo: via GOV.UK

The Taliban Releases Four British Nationals

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) announced on Tuesday, October 10, that four British nationals who had been detained by the Taliban in Afghanistan have been released.

The FCDO did not specify the charges against the men, but said all UK citizens were required to comply with “UK counter-terrorism legislation when overseas and abide by all laws of the country of destination”. According to the statement, they had been detained for “violating Afghanistan laws”

The FCDO did not provide details about the identity of British nationals released from Taliban custody. However, Presidium Network, a UK humanitarian non-profit, confirmed that two of the released individuals were charity medic Kevin Cornwell, 53, and YouTube star Miles Routledge, 24. 

Earlier in April, the UK Home Secretary announced that three British nationals, including Miles Routledge, 24, a self-professed “danger tourist,” and charity worker Kevin Cornwell, 53, are being held by the Taliban’s intelligence since January 2023. The Home Secretary also reported that negotiations are underway with the Taliban authorities to release them.

British charity worker Kevin Cornwell and a hotel manager were arrested on January 11 by the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) during a raid on Cornwell’s hotel in Kabul. The Taliban accused them of possessing a handgun, but Cornwell’s family maintains that he had been granted a license for the gun by the Taliban authorities. Cornwell had been in Afghanistan for 11 months, working as a medical professional for Iqarus International, a non-profit organization that provides free healthcare services to the local population.

Another detainee was YouTuber Miles Routledge,  who publicly shared his adventures in the world’s most dangerous places for fun. He has made several trips to Afghanistan, Ukraine, and war-torn Sudan in recent years.

The UK Foreign Office spokesperson had apologized to the Taliban, showing the precarious spot the British government had found itself in with the regime in Afghanistan. “On behalf of the families of the British nationals, we express their apologies to the current administration of Afghanistan for any violations of the laws of the country,” the FCDO spokesperson has said.

In August, the Taliban confirmed that 16 foreign nationals, including five women, are currently being held in their prisons in Afghanistan. They did not provide any information about the identity of the prisoners or the charges against them. In September, the Taliban detained 18 employees of the International Assistance Mission (IAM), a non-profit organization, including an American female surgeon in central Ghor province. the group accused them of “promoting Christianity”.

The number of U.S. citizens currently being held by the Taliban is unknown. However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed in March that several Americans are detained in Afghanistan. He said, that their families have asked the American government to protect their identities and don’t speak publicly of their cases.

Many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have advised their citizens against traveling to Afghanistan due to the high risk of kidnapping or violence. 

The Taliban has a history of holding Westerners hostage to gain political advantage and secure prisoner exchanges. In 2022, the Taliban released Mark Frerichs, a former U.S. Navy diver, after more than two years in captivity in exchange for Bashir Noorzai, a drug trafficker who was serving a life sentence in the United States. In 2014, the Taliban released Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. Army sergeant who had been held captive for five years by the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated group, in exchange for five Taliban leaders held at Guantánamo Bay, many of whom hold senior positions in their current administration.