Taleban says mystery crash in Afghanistan was US aircraft

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A United States (US) military aircraft crashed in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, a Taleban spokesman and Afghan journalist affiliated with the militant group said.

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 burnt. He added that aircraft’s body and tail were hardly damaged. His information could not be independently verified.

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

Ghazniwal said the crash site was about 10 kilometres from a US military base.

US Army Major Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for US Central Command, declined to comment when told about the Taleban claim. She earlier acknowledged American military officials were investigating reports of a crash in Afghanistan. She said that it remained unclear whose aircraft was involved in the crash.

Riordan declined to immediately comment further.

However, pictures on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft, which the US military uses for electronic surveillance over Afghanistan.

Images on social media purportedly of the crashed plane showed an aircraft bearing US 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 US 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 yesterday that a passenger plane from Afghanistan’s Ariana Airlines had crashed in the Taleban-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 1.10pm local time in Deh Yak district, some 130 kilometres southwest of the capital Kabul. He said the crash site is in territory controlled by the Taleban.

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 Taleban 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.