The US military has confirmed one of its planes crashed in the eastern Afghan province of Ghazni on Monday, but disputed claim that the aircraft had been brought down by the enemy fire.
“While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” US military spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett said in a statement.
They were the only two people aboard the Air Force E-11A electronic surveillance aircraft when it went down on Monday, the official said, speaking Tuesday on the condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement of the recovery.
The identities of the two have not been publicly announced, pending notification of their relatives.
Afghan forces were sent to the site immediately after receiving the report of the crash in the Deh Yak district, but were ambushed by Taliban fighters, Ghazni provincial police chief Khalid Wardak told Reuters.
Wardak said the forces subsequently received an order to retreat and airborne action is to be taken instead.
Confirming the reports of clashes, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Afghan forces backed by US military had tried to capture the area around the crashed aircraft.
He told Reuters that the Taliban would allow a rescue team access to recover bodies from the crash site.
“Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the US plane crash,” Mujahid said.
The Taliban, which currently controls or holds sway over around half the country, earlier claimed the plane was brought down.
“The plane, which was on an intelligence mission, was brought down in Sado Khel area of Deh Yak district of Ghazni province,” said Taliban spokesman Mujahid in a statement.
He did not say how the fighters had brought down the plane, which was used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.
Mujahid said the crew on board included high-ranking officers from the United States, but a senior US defence official denied that senior American officers were involved.
The armed group, which has been waging a war against the US-led forces since 2001, often exaggerates enemy casualty figures.
Local Afghan officials had said earlier on Monday that a passenger plane from the state-owned Ariana Airlines had crashed in the Taliban-held area. However, the airline denied initial reports that it was the owner of the plane.
“It does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today, from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi, are safe,” acting CEO Mirwais Mirzakwal told Reuters.
Two officials from Ghazni province said the crashed aircraft appeared to belong to a foreign company.
“There is no exact information on casualties and the name of the airline,” Ghazni Provincial Governor Wahidullah Kaleemzai told private broadcaster Tolo News earlier on Monday.
The crash comes as the Taliban and the US have been in talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan. Taliban has been waging an armed rebellion since it was toppled from power following the September 2001 attacks in the US.
Negotiations between the two sides began last year in Doha but have been interrupted at least twice after Taliban attacks on US military personnel in September and December.
Last week, another round of talks kicked off with the US Special Representative on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, meeting repeatedly the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.