Taleban free Russian pilot after 18 months in captivity because he's seriously ill

KABUL (REUTERS) - The Afghan Taleban said on Friday it had freed a Russian helicopter pilot captured in eastern Logar province in April 2013 because he had fallen seriously ill.

Pavel Petrinko was seized along with at least one Afghan citizen and eight Turkish engineers working for a construction company after the helicopter made an emergency landing in the province, which is partly controlled by the militant group.

The Turkish passengers were freed soon after the incident.

"Petrinko, who had recently become seriously ill, was released by the Islamic Emirate due to health reasons and after reaching an understanding with the concerned country," Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Friday.

"(He was released) after taking an oath that he shall never work with the Kabul regime in Afghanistan under any pretext but shall immediately leave for his country."

Mujahid said a similar promise not to fight the Taleban had been made by the Afghan prisoner, who was also released with the Russian pilot on Wednesday.

Helicopter crashes and "hard landings" happen frequently in mountainous Afghanistan, with the most deadly incident in August 2011 killing 30 US special forces soldiers, several Afghans and an interpreter when their Chinook was shot down.

The Russian embassy in the capital Kabul could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Soviet army occupied the country for a decade until its withdrawal in 1989.

Several hundred Soviet soldiers were still counted as missing after the pullout, and some have been discovered by a Russian committee that works to track them down.

Last year, a former Soviet soldier was discovered living among Afghans in western Herat province over thirty years after he disappeared.