Afghan Taliban capture foreigners from helicopter
PULI ALAM, Afghanistan - The Taliban said Monday they had captured foreigners from a helicopter forced to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan, which officials said had seven Turks and two Russians on board.
The insurgent militia, which frequently makes exaggerated statements, claimed 11 US military personnel were on the aircraft which came down Sunday in bad weather in Logar province, just south of Kabul.
The US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said no foreign military were involved and the helicopter was a civilian one. It said it had no information on the fate of the aircraft or its occupants.
The Taliban said on its website that the foreigners "were captured alive and were then transferred to the most secure region of the nation," adding that the helicopter had been torched.
The Afghan-based charter firm Khorasan Cargo Airlines, which operated the Mi-8 helicopter, said seven Turks working on a road project, a Russian pilot, a Russian flight engineer and an Afghan co-pilot were aboard.
Turkey's foreign ministry said its diplomats were holding "intensive talks" with Afghan authorities to establish their whereabouts.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian government.
The Afghan interior ministry said a police team had been sent to the area and a search for the passengers and crew had begun.
It could not confirm the number or nationality of those held. Officials in Logar had earlier said eight Turks and one Afghan were missing.
Adding to the confusion, a Logar provincial government spokesman said that seven Turks, two Ukrainians and an Afghan interpreter were on the helicopter when it came down in Azra district.
"We have also been talking to the village elders to persuade the Taliban to release the captives," said the spokesman, Din Mohammad Darvish.
Hamidullah Hamid, governor of Azra district, said the captives were thought to be in the district's Mangal valley, a Taliban-controlled area.
The helicopter had been travelling from the eastern city of Khost to Kabul when it was forced to land.
The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by a US-led invasion, claimed it had 11 US military members, including two translators, on board.
"The foreign forces, by disassociating themselves from the helicopter, are trying to make it seem as the detainees are civilians but denial will not benefit them as all were captured while wearing American military uniforms," it said.
An ISAF spokesman said NATO troops were ready to assist Afghanistan security forces but that there had been no request so far.
Turkey, one of only two Muslim-majority members of NATO, has around 1,800 soldiers serving with ISAF. But unlike its European allies, their mission is limited to patrols and its troops do not take part in combat operations.
ISAF is preparing to withdraw all its foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, handing over to Afghan troops and police despite widespread fears about instability in the country.
Attacks by the Taliban and other guerrillas soared in the first quarter of 2013, according to a study by an independent group released on Saturday.
The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office reported 2,331 insurgent attacks in January-March, a 47 percent rise on the first quarter of last year.
Helicopter mishaps are common in mountainous Afghanistan.
Last month five foreign soldiers died in a crash in the south of the country. In February this year a NATO helicopter came down in the east but there were no fatalities.