Afghan Taliban hold foreigners from helicopter

The Taliban have seized up to nine foreigners from a helicopter forced to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan, officials said, with Turks and Russians on board.

The charter firm running the Mi-8 helicopter said seven Turks working on a road project, a Russian pilot and flight engineer, and an Afghan co-pilot were aboard when bad weather forced it to land on Sunday.

Turkey's foreign ministry said in Ankara its diplomats were holding "intensive talks" with Afghan authorities to establish their whereabouts.

Officials in Logar province south of Kabul gave different information on the passengers and crew, saying eight Turks and one Afghan were aboard.

"Security forces found the helicopter but the nine people were not in it. They are taken by the Taliban," Rais Khan Sadeq, deputy provincial police chief, told AFP.

Provincial spokesman Din Mohammad Darvish also said eight Turks and an Afghan had been detained.

The helicopter had departed from the eastern city of Khost and was heading for Kabul when it came down. A local official who declined to be identified said tribal chiefs were trying to secure the captives' return.

The Taliban could not be reached for comment.

The helicopter had been chartered from Afghan-based Khorasan Cargo Airlines. A spokesman who gave the nationalities of those aboard said his company had no information about what had happened to them.

The US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul said the force had assisted a search by Afghan authorities for a helicopter but gave no details.

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.

Ankara has historically close ties with Kabul. Last September Turkey extended by one year its command of an ISAF unit covering the region around the Afghan capital.

Taliban insurgents have been battling Afghan forces and foreign troops since they were ousted from government in Kabul by a US-led invasion in 2001.

Attacks by them and other guerrillas soared in the first quarter of 2013, according to a study by an independent group released on Saturday.

The violence overwhelmingly targets Afghan troops and police as foreign combat forces step back from the frontline in preparation for withdrawal from the country next year, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.

The office reported 2,331 insurgent attacks in January-March, a 47 percent rise on the first quarter of last year.

"We assess that the current re-escalation trend will be preserved throughout the entire season and that 2013 is set to become the second most violent year after 2011," said its report.