Afghan security forces have launched an operation to free at least 18 people taken hostage by the Taliban after a helicopter malfunctioned. Two of the hostages are Moldovan.
The Mi-17 helicopter crash-landed on Tuesday after experiencing technical problems during a flight in Afghanistan's Faryab province, local officials confirmed.
The crashed helicopter was then ambushed by Taliban fighters shortly after it landed, sparking a shootout.
At least three people were killed during the clashes and the remainder of the crew and passengers - as many as 18 people - were seized. It is unclear whether the hostages are Afghan soldiers, civilians, or both.
An Afghan army attempt to take back the hostages on Tuesday failed in the face of Taliban resistance, and another operation was launched on Wednesday.
The Taliban said it was holding 15 of the hostages for investigation and five had been killed. It said most of the hostages were Afghan army soldiers, though the claim could not be verified.
Among the hostages are two Moldovans while another Moldovan was killed, Moldova's interior minister, Oleg Balan, said on Wednesday.
The helicopter belonged to a privately operated Moldovan company that was operated by two Moldovan pilots and a flight engineer as part of a UN peacekeeping mission, Balan said.
The Afghan army had chartered the helicopter.
Moldova has no diplomatic representation in Afghanistan and has requested assistance from the United States and United Nations.
Wrestling for control
The area where the chopper went down lies close to the border with Turkmenistan and is partly controlled by the Taliban. It has been the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in recent weeks.
In late September,the Taliban temporarily seized control of provincial capital Kunduz
- the first time the group had taken control of a major city since being toppled from power in 2001.
Also in Afghanistan on Tuesday, six civilians were killed and six others wounded in two separate blasts in the capital Kabul. No one immediately claimed responsibility for those attacks.
Taliban insurgents also killed a provincial director from the country's national tax office in the eastern Ghazni province.
mm/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)