(CBS News) – A small U.S. Air Force jet crashed Monday in Taliban-held territory in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, south of the capital. It was not immediately clear how many people were on board the plane, but an Afghan official said two pilots were found dead amid the wreckage.
Provincial government spokesman Arif Noori told CBS News’ Ahmad Mukhtar the plane appeared to have been flying between the southern city of Kandahar and the capital Kabul, about 200 miles to the north. Ghazni province is between those two locations.
Noori said the bodies of two pilots were found at the crash site and that the plane was destroyed. He did not mention any other casualties.
A U.S. military official confirmed to CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin that an Air Force E-11 had crashed in Afghanistan. The official said the cause of the crash was still being investigated and he would not discuss the fate of the crew.
Unverified images from the crash site emerged on social media, showing the tail end of a destroyed jet bearing U.S. Air Force insignia.
The U.S. Air Force uses the E-11A, a twin-engine jet made by Bombardier, as a flying command and communications hub.
According to a 2018 article on the Air Force’s website, 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron flies the jet out of Kandahar Airfield equipped with a “Battlefield Airborne Communications Node” (BACN).
BACN “is like Wi-Fi in the sky,” In the article, Captain Jacob Breth, a pilot with the squadron, described the BACN as “like WiFi in the sky.” The Air Force said the unit was developed “in direct response to communication shortfalls during” a 2005 joint U.S.-Afghan mission in Afghanistan, which became the storyline in the Hollywood movie “Lone Survivor.”
The Taliban claimed it had downed the plane soon after the images surfaced suggesting it was a U.S. aircraft, but the insurgent group has previously tried to take ownership of events it actually had nothing to do with.
Ariana Afghan Airlines, the country’s state-owned flagship carrier, was forced to issue a statement strongly denying multiple earlier reports — including from Afghan government officials — that one of its planes had come down.
“All of Ariana Afghan flights are operating normally” the airline said in a post to its Facebook page.
Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority also said in a Facebook post that it had received no reports of a civilian airliner going down.
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