Just Talking? Why Were Two European Officials Expelled from Afghanistan?

One story that appears to have largely fallen through the cracks of international news coverage during the holidays is the mysterious expulsion of two European officials from Afghanistan in late December. The Irishman Michael Semple and the Briton Melvyn Patterson are reported to have left Afghanistan in compliance with the expulsion order shortly after Christmas. Semple has been widely identified as the acting head of the European Union delegation in Afghanistan — although the site of the EU delegation, officially headed by German diplomat Hansjörg Kretschmer, makes no mention of him in this capacity. Patterson is an official of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

To the degree that the story has received attention in English-language media, it has typically been reported — for instance, by both the AP and the New York Times — that the two were accused of having “held talks” with the Taliban. If they did, this would in fact hardly be surprising: considering that Patterson’s boss, the German diplomat and UNAMA chief Tom Koenigs, has long advocated engaging the Taliban in negotiations. Last May indeed, in an interview partially translated on WPR, Koenigs went so far as to insist that one should even speak with “war criminals.”

Reports coming out of Afghanistan suggest, however, that the two were accused by the Afghan government of considerably more than just talking. Thus a Dec. 27 report in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera cites Humayun Hamidzada, spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, from the Dari-language newspaper Erada. According to the Corriere report, Hamidzada “directly” accused the two officials of having passed “arms and money to the Taliban terrorists” in Musa Qala in Helmand province.

It is interesting to note that in his May interview, UNAMA chief Tom Koenigs specifically cited Musa Qala as an area where the U.N. had “successfully” brokered an agreement with radical forces.