Aid Workers Free From Taliban's Hold

U.S. military helicopters swept into Afghanistan and picked up the eight foreign aid workers held by the Taliban on charges of preaching Christianity, President Bush said tonight.

The helicopters airlifted the two Americans, four Germans and two Australians to Pakistan. They arrived in Islamabad Thursday, local time.

"Today we've got incredibly good news," Bush said near his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "Our United States military rescued eight humanitarian workers who had been imprisoned in Afghanistan."

The president said U.S. special operations forces received help from someone on the ground near Kabul, the Afghan capital, but he did not give further details. Sources told ABCNEWS that someone on the ground lit small fires to guide in the U.S. forces.

Bush said he had been worried that the Taliban, on the run from Northern Alliance soldiers, might put the aid workers in a location that might be targeted by U.S. bombing runs. "We thought of different ways to extricate them from the prison they were in," Bush said, without elaborating.

All in Good Condition

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said all of the aid workers were in good condition.

"This effort involved many people and several entities. U.S. forces performed the extraction well and the American people can be proud of them," Rumsfeld said in a statement.

The statement said three special operations helicopters buzzed into a field about 50 miles southwest of Kabul at 4:40 p.m. ET and picked up the aid workers, who had been held on charges of alleged proselytizing since Aug. 5.

The eight belong to the German-based Christian charity Shelter Now International, and had been held in Kabul until the Taliban fled to the southern city of Kandahar on Monday night. The Taliban took the aid workers with them.

One defense official said the release was the result of "nonconfrontational" negotiations between the Taliban and international agencies.

Pride for Americans

The two Americans are Dayna Curry, 30, and Heather Mercer, 24. Curry's father was standing in line at a church supper when he got the news that his daughter was safe.

"The last two days have been the most difficult two days since she's been in detention," said Tilden Curry, standing outside the First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills, Tenn.

"I'm just so proud of the strength she has shown through this whole ordeal," he said. "She never gave up her faith or got discouraged."

Elsewhere, the reaction was equally joyous.

Jimmy Seibert, the senior pastor of the Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, said the aid workers' faith never wavered. Curry and Mercer are both graduates of the Baptist-affiliated Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and were members of the church.

"We are proud of who they are, what they stand for, and we are thankful most of all to the God who makes the way where there is no way," Seibert said to cheers from his congregation.

Said Bush: "The good news is they'll be home for Thanksgiving."

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