Taliban kidnap 8 Turks

Taliban kidnap 8 Turks

GARDEZ, Afghanistan
Taliban kidnap 8 Turks

The incident happened after the Turkish helicopter landed on Sunday evening in a Taliban-controlled area of eastern Afghanistan, according to reports. REUTERS photo / Stringer

A 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.

“The helicopter was carrying eight Turks, the pilots were Russian and Afghan. We believe they are in good health and Turkish officials are in contact with Afghan officials over the issue,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gümrükçü said.

The helicopter, owned by air charter company Khorasan Cargo Airlines, made an emergency landing in Logar province late April 21 due to bad weather, a Khorasan staff member said on condition of anonymity. District Governor Hamidullah Hamid said the helicopter came down in a gorge in the densely forested region, known for narrow gorges and rugged mountains, which lies about 20 kilometers from the Pakistani border and is a hotbed of Taliban activity.

Turkey has around 1,800 soldiers serving with the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), but unlike its European allies, their mission is limited to patrols and its troops do not take part in combat operations. “The Turkish embassy is holding intensive talks with Afghan authorities to find out their whereabouts,” a Foreign Ministry diplomat said.

Stepan Anikeyev, the Russian embassy’s press attaché in Kabul, said in a phone interview that a Russian man was being held hostage. He said the Russians knew he was one of the two pilots but that they did not have details about his identity yet but that they were in “constant touch” with local officials in Afghanistan.

Taliban insurgents said they were holding a group of foreigners taken captive after a helicopter made an emergency landing in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban, in a statement on their website, claimed they had taken 11 U.S. military personnel. They “were captured alive and were then transferred to the most secure region of the nation”, it said.

The Taliban said they immediately surrounded the helicopter and set it ablaze after it made an emergency landing in bad weather. “The foreign forces, by disassociating themselves from the helicopter, are trying to make it seem as if the detainees are civilians but denial will not benefit them as all were captured while wearing American military uniforms,” the statement said.

ISAF said the helicopter was a civilian one and there were “no ISAF” or “U.S. personnel onboard the Turkish helicopter,” denying the Taliban’s claim that they had detained Americans on the aircraft.

Security forces were dispatched to the area where the helicopter came down and engaged in gunfire fighting 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. A local official who declined to be identified said tribal chiefs are trying to secure the captives’ return.

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.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.