ISLAMABAD - Authorities in Afghanistan remain clueless about the fate of 18 people, mostly soldiers, who were taken captive by Taliban insurgents earlier this week after their helicopter crash-landed in a volatile northern region.
Afghan defense ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told VOA Saturday Afghan security forces have been conducting operations in the Pashtoonkot district of Faryab province where the incident happened, but he did not report any progress.
Afghan officials said the privately contracted helicopter was carrying military personnel on Tuesday and made an emergency landing in the Taliban-controlled district after developing a technical problem.
According to official accounts, Taliban militants captured 16 Afghan soldiers and two foreigners who managed to get out of the burning aircraft, while two soldiers and a foreigner on board were killed in the shootout with the insurgents.
But a spokesman for the Taliban claimed it brought down the helicopter and captured 15 people wearing Afghan army uniforms, while another five were killed in the incident. The spokesman did not acknowledge any foreigners among the hostages.
On Friday, the Taliban released a video that purportedly showed a group of men, some with burn injuries on their faces, being escorted by armed men to an unknown location. It said the men were the soldiers its fighters seized from the destroyed helicopter.
Provincial authorities in Faryab said local tribal elders and civil society activists are trying to indirectly contact the Taliban to secure the release of the captives. But, they added, the Taliban has not yet made any demands.
Moldova’s interior minister said Wednesday three of his country's citizens, two pilots and a flight engineer, were operating the helicopter, which belonged to a Moldovan company doing a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Meanwhile, police in Kabul said a suicide bomber killed at least one person and wounded another.
The bombing targeted a vehicle reportedly carrying Abdul Rahman Rodwal, regional director at the national election commission, during the morning rush hour.
Police say the election official survived the attack because he was not on board, but his driver was killed and a bodyguard wounded in the incident.