Advanced U.S. Military Plane Crashes in Taliban-controlled Area of Afghanistan

The U.S. military confirmed that the crashed aircraft is a U.S. E-11, but denies that the Taliban shot it down

A U.S. Air Force E-11 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan
Capt. Keenan Kunst USAF

The U.S. military confirmed Monday that a U.S. military aircraft crashed in a Taliban-controlled area of central Afghanistan, but denied that Taliban insurgents brought it down.

Update: U.S. recovers remains from Afghanistan plane crash, officials say

There were "no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire," U.S. military spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett wrote on Twitter, "Taliban claims that additional aircraft have crashed are false."

Pictures and a video on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft, which the U.S. military uses for electronic surveillance over Afghanistan. The military confirmed that it is, in fact, an E-11A that crashed. 

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there were no indications so far that the plane had been brought down by enemy activity. One of the officials said there were believed to be fewer than 10 people on board.

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

Mujahid did not say how fighters had brought the plane down. He said the crew on board included high ranking U.S. officers. A senior defense official denied that senior American officers were involved.

The Taliban control large parts of Ghazni province. The militant group, which has been waging a war against U.S.- led forces since 2001, often exaggerates enemy casualty figures.

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 air base 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 religious regime, smaller private airlines have emerged, but the industry is still a nascent one.