Afghan Taliban hold Turks after helicopter lands

Taliban insurgents have seized eight Turks and an Afghan from a civilian helicopter which made an emergency landing in bad weather in eastern Afghanistan, officials said Monday.

The incident happened after the Turkish helicopter landed on Sunday evening, said Rais Khan Sadeq, deputy police chief of Logar province south of Kabul.

"Security forces found the helicopter but the nine people were not in it. They are taken by the Taliban," Sadeq told AFP.

He said the group is made up of eight Turks and one Afghan. Provincial spokesman Din Mohammad Darvish also said eight Turks and an Afghan had been detained.

Hamidullah Hamid, governor of Azra district where the helicopter came down, said it had departed from the eastern city of Khost and was heading for Kabul.

A local official who declined to be identified said tribal chiefs are trying to secure the captives' return.

A Taliban spokesman could not be reached for comment and the Turkish embassy in Kabul was also unavailable.

The helicopter had been chartered from Afghan-based Khorasan Cargo Airlines. A company official who declined to give his name told AFP seven passengers and three crew were on board but would not give nationalities.

The official said the aircraft had made an emergency landing in Logar due to bad weather but declined to give any further details.

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.

A spokesman confirmed it was a civilian helicopter and not part of ISAF.

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 and last September Turkey extended by one year its command of the part of the ISAF force which covers the region around the Afghan capital.

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

Attacks by the Taliban and other insurgents 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.