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:

5 PHOTOS
Clashes against Taliban militants in Kunduz
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Afghan forces launch bid to rescue 18 captured by Taliban
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)
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)
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)
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