KABUL, Afghanistan – A Turkish transport helicopter with at least 11 civilians was forced to make an emergency landing in a Taliban-controlled area in eastern Afghanistan, and the insurgents took all the people on board hostage, including eight Turks and a Russian, officials said Monday.
The civilian aircraft landed in strong winds and heavy rain on Sunday in a village named Dahra Mangal in the Azra district of Logar province, southeast of Kabul, District Governor Hamidullah Hamid told The Associated Press.
He said the helicopter came down in a gorge in the densely forested region, known for narrow gorges and rugged mountains, about 12.5 miles from the Pakistani border.
The Taliban fighters then captured everyone aboard the helicopter and took them away, Hamid said.
In a telephone interview, Arsala Jamal, Logar's provincial governor, identified the hostages as eight Turks, one Afghan translator and two foreign pilots of unknown nationality.
In Ankara, a spokesman at Turkey's Foreign Ministry confirmed that eight Turks were aboard the helicopter but had no information on their condition or what had happened to them after the emergency landing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with ministry regulations.
Stepan Anikeyev, the Russian embassy's press attachΘ in Kabul, said in a phone interview that a Russian man was being held hostage. He said the Russians knows he was one of the two pilots but that they don't have details about his identity yet and that they're in "constant touch" with local officials in Afghanistan.
Security forces were dispatched to the area where the helicopter came down and engaged in firefights with the Taliban but quickly retreated because they had no support, said Logar Deputy Police Chief Rais Khan Abdul Rahimzai.
"We brought the police back because there was no help from the (NATO) coalition or the Afghan army. The police were unable to secure the area, which is very rural, and we were worried," Rahimzai said.
He added that information they had from the region was that the hostages were taken by the Taliban to Hisarak district of neighboring Nangarhar province.
Hamid said that repeated calls for the Afghan army or NATO help went unanswered, and that the police were unable to secure the area, which is located nine miles from the district police compound in the town of Azra.
NATO confirmed that the Turkish helicopter went down on Sunday, but the International Security Assistance Force did not have any other details. It did say there were "no ISAF" or "U.S. personnel onboard the Turkish helicopter," denying an earlier Taliban claim that they had detained Americans on the aircraft.
ISAF spokeswoman Erin Stattel said the coalition was assisting in the recovery of the aircraft, but would not say how. She could not say whether the helicopter made a precautionary landing or the Taliban had forced it down.
Rahimzai, the deputy police chief in Logar, said he didn't know what kind of cargo the helicopter was carrying, where it was headed, or whether it was working for NATO.
Although hostage taking and kidnappings are not uncommon in Afghanistan, large scale captures of foreigners are rare.
The last such instance occurred in July 2007 when the Taliban abducted 23 South Korean church volunteers as they traveled by bus along a dangerous road in southern Afghanistan. The militants killed two men soon after taking them and later gradually released all the remaining hostages over a month.
Last month, the Taliban released a Turkish engineer that they had kidnapped two years ago. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said at the time that the engineer had been released as a goodwill gesture.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency, quoting an unnamed official from the Khorasan Logistics company in Kabul, said an MI-8 type helicopter belonging to the company made an emergency landing near the town of Azra, due to bad weather conditions. There were 11 people on board, including 8 Turks, one Afghan and one Russian, Anadolu quoted the official as saying.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian foreign ministry.
The helicopter reportedly belonged to a company called Khorasan. No one was answering telephones at Khorasan's offices in Kabul or in Dubai.