The Afghan army has launched an operation to rescue 18 hostages captured by the Taliban after their helicopter crash-landed in the north, as the private firm operating the aircraft said it was shot down.
The Taliban killed three of those on board - two Afghans and a foreigner - in an initial firefight and took the rest captive after the Tuesday crash, the Afghan defence ministry said in a statement on Wednesday (local time).
The 21 people on board included two Moldovan pilots and a Moldovan engineer, the country's acting Prime Minister Gheorghe Brega told reporters in Chisinau.
He did not specify if the three were dead or captured, but the Afghan defence ministry said two foreigners were being held along with an unspecified number of Afghan soldiers.
The helicopter came down in the Pashtun Kot district of Faryab province, an area partly controlled by the militants.
The Mi-17 was privately owned by the Valan ICC company in Moldova, according to Brega, and had been chartered by the Afghan army.
It made an emergency landing "due to technical reasons" near Maimana, the capital of Faryab province, the defence ministry statement said.
"Later they encountered battle with the enemy. As a result, two army soldiers and one foreign national were killed and 18 others on board arrested by armed opponents of the government," it said, without specifying whether all the Afghans on board had been soldiers.
However Valan ICC said in a statement its helicopter had been shot down.
"A distress signal from the crew was received. It informed the client that the helicopter had been attacked, that it had been shot and thus went down and burned. There was an emergency landing," company chief Alexander Zagrebelny said in a statement.
Zagrebelny said the helicopter and its three crew had been transporting 18 Afghan security force members at the request of the US State Department.
He denied there had been any technical problem.
"This is a practically new helicopter in ideal condition."
The Taliban in a statement on their website on Wednesday said they had shot the helicopter down.
The insurgents fought off an initial attempt on Tuesday by the Afghan army to rescue the surviving hostages, the ministry said.
It said a fresh attempt was launched Wednesday but gave no immediate details.
The Taliban said they had killed five people and were holding a further 15, and made no mention of any foreign hostages.
They said the captives had "been taken to safe areas and are being investigated".