Afghan forces launch bid to rescue 18 captured by Taliban

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KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan security forces launched an operation on Wednesday to rescue 18 people captured by Taliban insurgents after their helicopter made an emergency landing in territory under the militants' control, the Ministry of Defence said.

Moldova's acting prime minister said the helicopter was operated by a Moldovan company and it had 21 people on board including a Moldovan crew of three. He said he had asked the United States for help to rescue the crew although one of them appeared to have been killed, along with two other people.

The MI-17 helicopter made an emergency landing in the northern province of Faryab on Tuesday after it developed a technical problem, the Afghan ministry said.

"The insurgents then attacked and as a result two soldiers and one member of the crew were killed ... 18 people were captured," the ministry said in a statement. "Security forces have started a clearance operation to free the captives."

The Taliban, fighting to expel foreign forces and bring down the U.S.-backed government, have made gains over the past year outside their southern and eastern heartlands and into northern areas including Faryab.

The ministry did not identify the captives or say if they were soldiers or civilians, or if any foreigners were among them.

The Taliban said five people had been killed and they had captured 15 who had managed to get out of the burning helicopter, most of them soldiers.

"The captured people have been taken to a safe place and an investigation has started," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said in a statement. He made no mention of foreigners.

Moldova's acting prime minister, Gheorghe Brega, said his government had unconfirmed reports that one Moldovan was among three people the militants shot dead.

The Moldovan Defence Ministry said the helicopter crash-landed after being shot at. The director general of Valan ICC, the Moldovan company which operated the MI-17, told reporters the helicopter had been carrying members of the Afghan security forces engaged in counter-terrorism operations.

EARLIER: Clashes with Taliban militants:

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Clashes against Taliban militants in Kunduz
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Afghan forces launch bid to rescue 18 captured by Taliban
Afghan security personnel walk around a burnt out vehicle near Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. An Afghan official says government forces have retaken the strategic northern city of Kunduz, which was seized by the Taliban on Monday. The spokesman says it could take some days to "clear the city," but that Taliban forces have retreated. He says about 200 Taliban fighters have been killed. (AP Photo)
A burnt-out police pick-up truck stands in the street after Afghan security forces retook control of Kunduz city from the Taliban militants in northeastern Kunduz province, on October 1, 2015. Afghan forces retook control of the strategic northern city of Kunduz on October 1 after a three-day Taliban occupation that dealt a stinging blow to the country's NATO-trained military. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A government building is pictured after Taliban fighters burnt it down, in Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. An Afghan official says government forces have retaken the strategic northern city of Kunduz, which was seized by the Taliban on Monday. The spokesman says it could take some days to "clear the city," but that Taliban forces have retreated. He says about 200 Taliban fighters have been killed. (AP Photo)
In this picture taken on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015 Afghanistan's security forces patrol of Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. military says it has conducted two more airstrikes overnight on Taliban positions around a northern Afghan city seized by the insurgents this week. (Najim Rahim via AP)
Afghan special forces arrive at the airport as they launch a counteroffensive to retake the city from Taliban insurgents, in Kunduz on Septmber 29, 2015. The Afghan army on September 29 launched a counter-offensive to retake Kunduz from the Taliban, a day after insurgents overran the strategic northern city. AFP PHOTO / Nasir Waqif (Photo credit should read NASIR WAQIF/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from an unknown point in Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. An Afghan official says government forces have retaken the strategic northern city of Kunduz, which was seized by the Taliban on Monday. The spokesman says it could take some days to "clear the city," but that Taliban forces have retreated. He says about 200 Taliban fighters have been killed. (AP Photo)
Afghan National Army soldiers arrive to start an operation soon, outside of Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Sept. 30. The U.S. military says it has conducted two more airstrikes overnight on Taliban positions around a northern Afghan city seized by the insurgents this week. (Najim Rahim via AP)
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier carries a colleague who was wounded during an offensive with Taliban insurgents in Kunduz on September 30, 2015. NATO said September 30 its special forces were supporting Afghan troops in Kunduz after Taliban insurgents seized the city, fought off a counter-attack and advanced on the airport to shore up their biggest victory in 14 years. Heavy fighting was underway near the northern city's airport where government forces retreated, highlighting the potent challenge the militants pose after their lightning capture of Kunduz. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on September 29, 2015 shows Afghan security personnel keeping watch as heavy fighting erupted near the airport on the outskirts of Kunduz. Taliban insurgents who seized the Afghan city of Kunduz have defied a counter-offensive and advanced on the airport where government forces retreated after the fall of the strategic northern gateway. Heavy fighting erupted near the airport on the city's outskirts as the insurgents closed in late on September 29, highlighting the potent challenge the militants represent after their lightning capture of Kunduz the previous day. AFP PHOTO / Nasir Waqif (Photo credit should read NASIR WAQIF/AFP/Getty Images)
A Taliban fighter sits on his motorcycle adorned with a Taliban flag in a street in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Tuesday on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, which was captured by the Taliban the previous day in a major setback to the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (AP Photo)
Taliban fighters search passengers and civilian vehicles in a check point in Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. Taliban gunmen fanned out in full force Tuesday across a key Afghan city they captured the day before, as the U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Kunduz and President Ashraf Ghani vowed to take the northern city back from the insurgents, urging his nation to trust Afghan troops to do the job. (AP Photo)
A Taliban supporter removes leaders' pictures in the main square of Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Tuesday on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, which was captured by the Taliban the previous day in a major setback to the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (AP Photo)
Taliban fighters drive a vehicle belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Tuesday on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, which was captured by the Taliban the previous day in a major setback to the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (AP Photo)
Taliban prisoners walk on a street after their comrades released them from the main jail in Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. The Taliban captured the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in a massive assault Monday involving hundreds of fighters, and now control a major urban area for the first time since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. (AP Photo/Hekmat Aimaq)
Map shows city of Kunduz in Afghanistan and locates government buildings and U.N. facilities; 3c x 5 inches; 146 mm x 127 mm;
Taliban fighters pose for a photo next to a UN vehicle which they are using, in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Tuesday on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, which was captured by the Taliban the previous day in a major setback to the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (AP Photo)
Taliban fighters and young men take over an army truck on a street in Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. The Taliban captured the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in a massive assault Monday involving hundreds of fighters, and now control a major urban area for the first time since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. (AP Photo/Hekmat Aimaq)
Taliban fighters walk with their weapons on a street in Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. The Taliban captured the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in a massive assault Monday involving hundreds of fighters, and now control a major urban area for the first time since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. (AP Photo/Hekmat Aimaq)
A Taliban fighter stands guard on a vehicle in Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Tuesday on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, which was captured by the Taliban the previous day in a major setback to the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (AP Photo)
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, points Afghanistan's acting defense minister Masoom Stanikzai, sitting, during a press conference at presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. Taliban gunmen fanned out in full force Tuesday across a key Afghan city they captured the day before, as the U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Kunduz and President Ashraf Ghani vowed to take the northern city back from the insurgents, urging his nation to trust Afghan troops to do the job. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference at presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. Taliban gunmen fanned out in full force Tuesday across a key Afghan city they captured the day before, as the U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Kunduz and President Ashraf Ghani vowed to take the northern city back from the insurgents, urging his nation to trust Afghan troops to do the job. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
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