Afghanistan scrambles to free Pakistan chopper crash hostages

Pakistan's military uses Russian-made MI-17 helicopters, several of which have crashed in recent years. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Kabul, Afghanistan Aug 05, 2016, 12.21 PM (IST)
Afghanistan scrambled today to free six crew members of a Pakistani helicopter taken hostage by the Taliban after it crash-landed in the country's volatile east.

Militants set the Mi-17 transport helicopter on fire and took the six crew to a Taliban-controlled area after it made an emergency landing in Logar province on Thursday, local authorities said.

The crew included retired Pakistani military officers and a Russian navigator, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported citing senior local officials.

"We have launched an investigation into the incident... and the government has instructed security forces to spare no efforts to secure the release of the crew members," the Afghan defense ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said Pakistan had sought permission to fly a helicopter, being sent to Russia for overhauling, over Afghan air space.

But it added it was investigating whether the crashed chopper was the one for which permission had been granted.

Kabul has long been suspicious of Pakistan, which it accuses of nurturing Taliban sanctuaries on its soil in the effort to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

Pakistani army chief seeks US intervention 

Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif tweeted that he had telephoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to secure the release of the crew.

"President Ashraf Ghani assured all possible assistance in this regard," he tweeted.

Pakistan army spokesman said that General Sharif also called NATO and US forces top commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson to get back the crew.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also stated federal government is in constant touch with the relevant authorities in Afghanistan and the state's resources are fully utilised to rescue the personnel who were onboard in the helicopter.

"Formal and informal channels are being used to ensure safe recovery of the entire crew," he said in a statement.

"We are profoundly concerned about the safety of the whole team that was travelling on the helicopter. We have formally requested the Government of Afghanistan to help in their safe recovery, at the earliest possible," he said further.

Russia's foreign ministry said it was checking media reports that one of their citizens had been taken hostage, adding it was in contact with Afghan and Pakistani authorities to secure his release.

The Taliban have so far not commented on the incident. 

Pakistan's military uses Russian-made MI-17 helicopters, several of which have crashed in recent years.

In February, an army officer was killed when a military helicopter crashed in northern Pakistan on a routine night training mission.

In May 2015, the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines, the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, two pilots and a crew member were killed when the Pakistani Mi-17 carrying them crashed in northern Naltar valley.