KABUL — An emergency landing by a helicopter ferrying foreign engineers in eastern Afghanistan turned into a mass abduction by the Taliban, officials said on Monday, offering a stark reminder of the insurgents’ continuing hold on large parts of the countryside.
The aircraft was forced down late Sunday because of a storm, according to the Afghan transport company that operated it, and it had to land in an area of Logar province, Mangal Khel, that is almost entirely controlled by the Taliban.
Although Logar borders Kabul and has a large and mostly US base near the province’s capital, it also has a vast mountainous stretch that has become an insurgent haven, local officials said.
In all, 11 people were abducted, according to reports from the Turkish foreign ministry and Afghan government officials. They included eight Turkish engineers, one Afghan man and the two pilots of the Russian-made helicopter. One pilot was confirmed to be Russian; the other was either Russian or from Central Asia, but there were conflicting reports of his nationality.
‘‘It’s a lot of people to take hostage — a lot of civilians,’’ said a senior Western official here, speaking on condition of anonymity. ‘‘It gives the Taliban bargaining chips, no question about that.’’
The Taliban took credit for the abductions in a statement Monday. How they leverage their unexpected capture of foreigners will indicate, to some extent, their overall priorities.
They could use the hostages for short-term goals, like offering them in exchange for the release of Taliban prisoners from the Bagram Prison, where some 3,000 accused insurgents are in custody. Or they might quietly seek a large ransom in exchange for the hostages’ release to help finance their operations.
MEETING WITH SECRETARY OF STATE
And as efforts grind on to restart either US or Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, there is also the chance that the windfall of hostages might lead the Taliban to believe that they suddenly are in a stronger position in any potential negotiations.
Afghan officials, one of whom described the abductions as ‘‘very terrible,’’ said they are worried that the hostages might be taken to Pakistan, where many international terrorist groups are based. The area where the helicopter landed is less than 20 miles from the Pakistani border.
One senior Afghan official noted that as of Monday night, the Afghan government was still unsure where the hostages were being held and whether they were still in Afghanistan. Local officials in Logar province said the Taliban were moving the hostages from village to village.
In a separate development Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said in Brussels that he would host a meeting there Wednesday with top Afghan and Pakistani leaders on ways to manage future US relations with the two countries after most foreign troops withdraw.
The meeting will be held the day after NATO foreign ministers gather to discuss the alliance’s role in Afghanistan after 2014, among other issues.
President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi will represent the Afghan side. Pakistan will be represented by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, and Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s foreign secretary. Karzai has been especially critical of US Special Operations forces and clandestine intelligence missions in recent weeks.
Afghan security forces have begun taking the lead in combat operations against the Taliban this year, and they are coming under more intense attack than ever before.
A day after capturing the foreigners Sunday, the Taliban sent out a carefully worded press statement that mirrored Western news releases, but some of the information was wrong, according to Afghan and US officials.
The statement claimed that those captured worked for the military, but there was no indication that any of those captured were either military contractors or troops.
The Turkish government reached out to Afghan tribal leaders to see if they could mediate with the insurgents, and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc went on national television Monday night to underscore the government’s efforts to get back its citizens.
The kidnapping has put Turkey, which has carved a niche for itself in running crisis diplomacy between the West and the Muslim world, in the unusual position of needing emergency mediation itself.
The Turkish military has nearly 1,000 troops in Afghanistan. The Turks’ prominent role in civilian development and that they are Muslim may alter somewhat how the Taliban deal with them. Just three weeks ago, the Taliban, after lengthy, quiet negotiations by the Turkish government, handed over unharmed a Turkish engineer who had been abducted two years earlier.
The Russian Embassy in Kabul had no comment on the abduction Monday, apparently deciding that a low profile might be more helpful as negotiations go forward.