KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A group of foreign civilians captured in eastern Afghanistan when their helicopter made an emergency landing are in good health, the Taliban said on Tuesday, as increased violence was reported around the country.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that the 11 captives were "being investigated," and denied reports that negotiations were underway for their release.
"They are healthy and in a safe place," Mujahid said. "A primary investigation has been started to find out who these people are."
The civilians have been tentatively identified as eight Turks, an Afghan translator and two pilots — one from Russia and the other from Kyrgyzstan. They were captured by insurgents on Sunday after their civilian cargo helicopter had to land in a remote part of eastern Logar province because of bad weather.
Although the Turkish government has not said what the Turks were doing in Afghanistan, it's believed that they were working for a construction company.
Logar Deputy Police Chief Rais Khan Abdul Rahimzai said local elders had started negotiations to see if the Taliban would release the men, but Mujahid said there were no talks.
"I am rejecting that. Before the end of the investigation there is no negotiation," Mujahid said.
The crisis began when the civilian transport aircraft was forced down in strong winds and heavy rain in the village of Dahra Mangal in the Azra district of Logar province, southeast of Kabul. The area is heavily influenced by insurgents.
The MI-8 helicopter went down in a ravine in the densely forested region, known for narrow gorges and rugged mountains, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Pakistan border.
Afghan police who tried to get to the scene were forced back by insurgent gunfire.
Afghan security forces believe the foreigners have been taken to neighboring Nangarhar province, which borders lawless tribal areas in Pakistan where insurgents have hideouts.
Although the capture or kidnapping of foreigners is not uncommon in Afghanistan, large-scale captures of foreigners are rare.
The last such instance was 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 gradually released the remaining captives during the next month.
Also on Tuesday, NATO said two of its service members were killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan. It provided no other details. Their deaths bring the total of foreign forces killed in April to eight; 34 have been killed since the start of the year.
April already has been the deadliest month this year for security forces and Afghan and foreign civilians as the U.S. and other countries prepare to end their combat mission by the end of next year. According to an Associated Press tally, about 238 people — including civilians, foreign troops and Afghan security forces — have been killed in violence around the nation this month.
Five people were killed on Tuesday in northern Faryab province, including a local prosecutor, his wife and three associates, provincial spokesman Jaweed Didar said. One of the gunmen also died in an exchange of gunfire, he added.
In southern Kandahar, nine civilian de-miners were captured by insurgents and negotiations were underway for their release, said provincial spokesman Javeed Faisal. The men were being driven back from a minefield on Sunday when they were captured, he said. Afghanistan has a legacy of land mines going back decades and remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.
AP writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.