KABUL — A bus-load of foreign tourists, including three Americans, was ambushed by Taliban insurgents Thursday on a highway in western Afghanistan, wounding six people. And seven Pakistanis were taken hostage by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan when their helicopter crash-landed, officials said.
Both incidents were highly unusual, and initial information about them from officials was contradictory and incomplete. But together, they illustrated the wide geographical range and aggressive opportunism of the Taliban militants, who quickly capitalized on two unexpected foreign targets at opposite ends of the country.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the tourist attack, which he said was aimed at “foreign occupiers and mercenaries.”
Officials said militants fired rockets at a convoy of foreign visitors and Afghan army escorts as they drove through Herat province, near the border with Iran. Officials said six people were wounded although none seriously, including a foreign woman and a driver.
The group of visitors included six British citizens, three Americans, two Scots and one German. None has been publicly identified, and the nationalities of the wounded were not known.
A spokesman for the governor of Herat said the travelers were being evacuated by helicopter to Herat City, about 100 miles west, near the border. It was not clear why they were driving through the remote region, where insurgents are known to be active, but they were reportedly en route to visit religious sites in the provincial capital.
Few Western tourists visit conflict-ridden Afghanistan, and most foreign travelers are on research or aid missions. The group may have been driving from Bamian, a north-central province that is home to the historic, 1,500-year-old Buddha statues carved into high cliffs.
In the second incident, Pakistani officials said seven civil engineers were aboard a helicopter on a routine maintenance mission when it crash-landed in a Taliban-controlled area of Logar province, near the border with Pakistan, and that all had been taken hostage by Taliban fighters.
The craft was crossing Afghan airspace en route from Pakistan’s Punjab province to Russia for maintenance. It was reported to be operated by the Pakistani army, but an army spokesman denied that report .
The foreign office in Islamabad said in a statement that the entire crew was taken hostage by the Taliban but provided no further details. A local district governor in Logar said six people on board had been seized as hostages by the militants and taken to an unknown location.
A spokesman for the Taliban said he was not aware of the incident. The government of Pakistan supported the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and some Taliban leaders have been based inside Pakistan for years.
Pakistani military officials said Thursday night that Gen. Raheel Sharif, the army commander, had called Gen. John Nicholson, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, to ask for assistance in rescuing the crew. They said U.S. and Afghan officials had promised to help.