Afghan Taliban release Pakistani helicopter crew

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The Afghan Taliban have released five Pakistanis and a Russian that were taken hostage by the militants after their helicopter crash-landed in eastern Afghanistan last week. The terms of their release are unclear.

“The six member crew of the Punjab government helicopter that went missing in Afghanistan on August 4 has been released and arrived in Islamabad today,” a statement from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Saturday.

The crew was held hostage by the Afghan Taliban after their helicopter crash-landed last week in eastern Afghanistan.

They were “released in an inter-tribe exchange on the Pakistani-Afghan border,” the ministry said.

The Afghan officials and the militants have neither confirmed the release nor have they commented on the negotiations that set them free.

The Afghan government accuses Pakistan of maintaining close ties with the Taliban and some analysts say the release of the hostages could be a result of the Pakistani security agencies’ influence on the Islamist insurgents.

Kabul also accuses Islamabad of backing Islamic extremists in their country, claiming that the Pakistani military provides sanctuaries to the Taliban and other jihadist groups to launch attacks on Afghan and foreign troops on their soil. Pakistan denies these claims.

It was not immediately clear what brought down the chopper in a Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan’s Logar province.

It was also unclear what the chopper was doing in the Afghan airspace and what brought it down. Pakistani officials claim the transport helicopter was flying from the northwestern city of Peshawar to Russia, where it was due to undergo maintenance.

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