US Army investigating military plane crash in Taliban-held area

National News

FILE IMAGE – 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers dismount vehicles to speak with local Afghan Security Forces during a patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan last week. Image from 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban spokesman and Afghan journalist affiliated with the militant group say that a U.S. military aircraft crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday.

Tariq Ghazniwal, a journalist in the area, said that he saw the burning aircraft. In an exchange on Twitter, he told The Associated Press that he saw two bodies and the front of the aircraft was badly burned. He added that aircraft’s body and tail was hardly damaged. His information could not be independently verified.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a U.S. airforce plane crashed in the Ghazni province. He claimed the crash killed “lots” of U.S. service members.

Ghazniwal said the crash site was about 10 kilometers from a U.S. military base.

U.S. Army Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, declined to comment when told about the Taliban claim. She earlier acknowledged American military officials were investigating reports of a crash.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story appears below.

The U.S. military said Monday that it is investigating reports of an airplane crash in Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, said that it remained unclear whose aircraft was involved in the crash.

Riordan declined to immediately comment further.

Images on social media purportedly of the crashed plane showed an aircraft bearing U.S. Air Force markings similar to other E-11A surveillance aircraft photographed by aviation enthusiasts. Visible registration numbers on the plane also appeared to match those aircraft.

The so-called Battlefield Airborne Communications Node can be carried on unmanned or crewed aircraft like the E-11A. It is used by the military to extend the range of radio signals and can be used to convert the output of one device to another, such as connecting a radio to a telephone.

Colloquially referred to by the U.S. military as “Wi-Fi in the sky,” the BACN system is used in areas where communications are otherwise difficult, elevating signals above obstacles like mountains. The system is in regular use in Afghanistan.

Local Afghan officials had said earlier on Monday that a passenger place from Afghanistan’s Ariana Airlines had crashed in the Taliban-held area of the eastern Ghazni province. However, Ariana Airlines told The Associated Press that none of its planes had crashed in Afghanistan.

The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled. The number of people on board and their fate was not immediately known, nor was the cause of the crash.

Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the plane went down around 1:10 p.m. local time (8:40 a.m. GMT) in Deh Yak district, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the capital Kabul. He said the crash site is in territory controlled by the Taliban. Two provincial council members also confirmed the crash.

But the acting director for Ariana Airlines, Mirwais Mirzakwal, dismissed reports that one the company’s aircraft had crashed. The state-owned airline also released a statement on its website saying all its aircraft were operational and safe.

The mountainous Ghazni province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter. The Taliban currently control or hold sway over around half the country.

The last major commercial air crash in Afghanistan occurred in 2005, when a Kam Air flight from the western city of Herat to Kabul crashed into the mountains as it tried to land in snowy weather.

The war, however, has seen a number of deadly crashes of military aircraft. One of the most spectacular occurred in 2013 when an American Boeing 747 cargo jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram airbase north of Kabul en route to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. All seven crew member were killed. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that large military vehicles were inadequately secured and had shifted during flight, causing damage to the control systems that “rendered the airplane uncontrollable.”

Afghanistan’s aviation industry suffered desperately during the rule of the Taliban when Ariana, its only airline at the time, was subject to punishing sanctions and allowed to fly only to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban’s harsh Islamic rule, smaller private airlines have emerged, but the industry is still a nascent one.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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