Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 July 2020

Afghanistan plane crash: US forces say aircraft was probably not shot down by enemy fire

Taliban claim they shot down US military plane, while Afghan officials say technical fault caused crash

US forces in Afghanistan said on Monday that the Taliban were probably not behind an American military plane crash in the country's mountainous Ghazni province.

But the military said the incident was still being investigated.

The Taliban, which controls the province, claimed to have shot down the plane carrying US personnel.

The aircraft was a small military plane, US officials told Reuters. One official said there were believed to be fewer than than 10 people on the aircraft.

"A US Bombardier E-11A crashed today in Ghazni province, Afghanistan," Col Sonny Leggett, spokesman for the US forces in Afghanistan, tweeted on Monday.

"There are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire. We will provide additional information as it becomes available."

Col Leggett said Taliban claims that other aircraft also crashed were false.

"The plane, which was on an intelligence mission, was brought down in Sado Khel area of Deh Yak district of Ghazni province," Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said earlier on Monday.

Another version of the Taliban statement said that the plane had crashed.

Mr Mujahid did not say how fighters had brought the plane down. He said the crew on board included high-ranking US officers.

The Taliban often exaggerate enemy casualty figures and incidents involving US forces. There have been contradicting reports about survivors escaping versus a number of bodies being recovered.

The Bombardier E-11A aircraft is used by the US military for electronic surveillance over Afghanistan.

“The plane was apparently dispatched for military operations and it took off from Afghanistan territory,” said Ghulam Masoom Massumi, director of air-traffic management at the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority. “The military plane was not a cargo plane."

He gave no details of the size or make of plane, or the number of people on board.

Sources in Resolute Support, the Nato mission to support the Afghan government, told The National that no known US or coalition aircraft were involved.

If the aircraft was part of US electronic surveillance it may not have been recorded with Nato.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Afghanistan also denied reports that the plane was a commercial flight.

"According to our information from the Control Tower and Traffic Regulatory Authority, no commercial airline crash has been recorded," it said.

"And Ariana Afghan Airlines have reassured us that all their planes are accounted for."

After checking their fleet, airline director Alem Ibrahimi confirmed to The National that none of the company's planes were missing.

The company's acting director Mirwais Mirzakwal said the same.

"There has been an airline crash but it does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi are safe," Mr Mirzakwal told Reuters.

Crashes involving military flights, particularly helicopters, are common in Afghanistan where bad weather and creaky aircraft are often pressed to their limits.

Insurgents have been known to take aim at helicopters.

Local sources told The National on Monday that the plane crashed and officials initially believed it was a passenger jet.

The spokesman for Ghazni province, Arif Noori, said a foreign-operated flight crashed and the initial assessment indicated a technical fault.

Mr Noori said the burnt wreckage could not be identified and neither could the nationalities of the passengers aboard.

He said that rescue teams were at the scene and trying to move the bodies to the district centre.

Mr Noori was among several officials who initially said a Boeing plane belonging to Ariana Afghan Airlines went down about 130 kilometres from Kabul at about 1.10pm local time.

Early reports said the flight had been bound for Harat or Delhi.

The Taliban control large parts of the Ghazni province and have been waging a war against US-led forces since 2001.

The province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter.

The last civilian flight to crash in Afghanistan was in May 2010, when an ageing Pamir Airways plane went down in bad weather during a scheduled flight to Kabul from the northern province of Kunduz.

It was carrying six crew and 38 passengers when it crashed into a mountainside 20 kilometres from Kabul.

In 2005, a Kam Air flight from the western city of Herat to Kabul crashed into mountains as it tried to land in snowy weather.

But there have been several deadly crashes involving military aircraft during the war.

One of the worst occurred in 2013 when an American Boeing 747 cargo jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram airbase north of Kabul.

Dozens of private entities operate planes and helicopters across Afghanistan to move military contractors and aid.

– additional reporting by agencies

Updated: January 28, 2020 10:11 AM

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