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Afghan militants take Punjab copter crew hostage

August 05, 2016

KOHAT/LAHORE: Unidentified local militants in Afghanistan made six crew members of a helicopter of the Punjab government hostage after the copter’s crash-landing in the Logar province of Afghanistan, official sources said on Thursday.

The sources said that the Punjab government’s MI-17 helicopter was flying to Uzbekistan for maintenance when it developed a technical fault and crash-landed in the Darra Jangal area in Logar, which is not very far from Kabul.

The militants burnt the helicopter and made the crew members hostage, including the navigator who is a national of Russia. They later shifted the hostages to an undisclosed location.The Afghan Taliban, who refer to their movement as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, denied any involvement in destroying the helicopter and taking its crew members hostage. They said the local militants from Logar were involved in the incident.

Pakistani authorities confirmed the incident and added that steps were being taken to recover the hostages.Meanwhile, according DG ISPR Major General Salim Bajwa’s tweet, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif called General Nicolson, Commander RSM in Afganistan, and asked him to help in recovery of crew of the Punjab government helicopter that crashlanded in the Logar province while on its way to Russia via Uzbekistan for maintenance. Gen Nicolson assured all possible help in this regard.

The Afghan government and ANA authorities have also been contacted for necessary assistance in recovery of crew members.A Russian navigator Sergei Sevastianov, Chief Pilot Col (retd) Safdar, Co-Pilot Col (retd) Shafique, Co-Pilot Maj (retd) Safdar, Flt Engineer Lt-Col (retd) Nasir, Havaldar Kasuar and two Punjab government officials were on board.

According to the sources in Punjab govt, all the crew members – the Russian navigator and the provincial government officers are safe and sound. The helicopter flew from Lahore at 7am and was scheduled to make the first stop at Helmand and second stop at Bukhara for refueling to reach the final destination in Russia.

The sources said the Pakistan government and Afghanistan government were in touch, adding that the Pakistani and Afghan security agencies were making efforts to rescue the crew and other officials.

The Punjab chief secretary also contacted the foreign secretary for the recovery of the pilots and other crew members.The foreign secretary had contacted the Afghanistan ambassador to Pakistan and also Pakistani embassy in Afghanistan. Moreover, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif contacted the army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, and sought his help in this regard.

When contacted, Additional Chief Secretary Khawaja Shumail Ahmed said as per initial information, the helicopter made a crash landing due to some technical fault. He confirmed that all the crew members and the Russian national were safe and efforts are being made for their recovery.

It may be recalled the Punjab government had released Rs 270.52 million for the repair and overhauling of the helicopter. Out of the total released amount, a sum of Rs24.764 million was released as supplementary grant for current fiscal year 2016-17, as Rs250.501 million were allocated in the budget of the current fiscal year. The helicopter being used by the Punjab chief minister had completed the flying hours, so the machine required repair and overhauling.AFP adds: The local district governor Hamidullah Hamid said the people on board had been taken hostage by Taliban insurgents. “They have been taken to an unknown location,” he said. The helicopter caught fire after it crashed, said Logar governor´s spokesman Salim Saleh.