Pakistan launches efforts to rescue helicopter crew held by Taliban

  • Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times, Islamabad
  • Updated: Aug 06, 2016 01:43 IST
File photo shows a Pakistan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter flying over the Presidential Palace during a parade marking the country’s National Day in Islamabad. A Pakistani government helicopter crash-landed in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, officials said. (AFP file phot)

The Afghan Taliban said on Friday they were holding the crew of a Pakistani government helicopter that crash landed in the eastern Logar province.

The helicopter was overflying Afghanistan on its way to Russia for overhaul. The six-member crew included one Russian national and five Pakistanis. The helicopter belongs to the government of Punjab province but most of the crew members were serving or retired Pakistani army or air force personnel.

The Afghan Taliban told the local media the helicopter had crashed on Thursday and the crew were safe. Their fate will be decided by the local Taliban leadership.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said his government is using “formal and informal channels” to ensure the safe recovery of the crew, according to a statement from his office. Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif also called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to request his country’s help.

“All crew members are safe,” Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal, who is Ghani's special envoy to Pakistan, told The Express Tribune newspaper.

Zakhiwal said Ghani was in the loop and had instructed the governor of Logar province and Afghan security forces to assist in recovering the crew. "I do believe there will be a peaceful ending to this," he said.

The helicopter either caught fire after the crash-landing or was damaged beyond repair. “The Taliban have taken the crew to Wach Lagad area after the helicopter went down at a place called Matrai,” Zakhilwal said.

The Afghan defence ministry also confirmed the Pakistani government had sought permission from the foreign and aviation ministries to use the country’s airspace. “The Afghan government has instructed the defence and security agencies to investigate whether or not it was the same helicopter for which permission had been sought,” defence ministry spokesperson Daulat Waziri said.

Pakistani military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa tweeted that Gen Sharif had called Gen John Nicholson, the Resolute Support Mission’s commander, hours after the helicopter made the crash landing and sought his help.

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