The US military has confirmed one of its planes crashed in eastern Afghan province of Ghazni on Monday, but disputed claim that the aircraft had been brought down by 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.
Leggett gave no information on casualties in the crash.
Pictures and a video on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft. Reuters could not verify the images.
Senior Afghan officials told Reuters the authorities had rushed local personnel to locate and identify the wreckage in a mountainous area partly controlled by the Taliban.
The Taliban, which currently control or hold sway over around half the country, 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 Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement.
Mujahid did not say how the fighters had brought the plane down, which is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.
He 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 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, Ariana Airlines told 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,” its 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 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 US Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad meeting repeatedly with the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Col Sonny Leggett said: “While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire.”
The aircraft crashed in Deh Yak district, Ghazni province, an area with a strong Taliban presence.
It is unclear how many people were on board.
Col Leggett denied Taliban claims that additional aircraft had crashed.
Taliban social media accounts have posted unverified footage showing a burnt-out plane with US Air Force markings.
The video shows a Bombardier E-11A – the type of jet used by the US Air Force for electronic surveillance over Afghanistan.
Afghan authorities had initially said the crash plane belonged to state-owned airline Ariana, but the company quickly said all its planes were accounted for.
While helicopters have proven vulnerable and accident-prone in Afghanistan, the loss of a US fixed-wing aircraft is relatively rare.
But the Taliban are not believed to have the sorts of anti-aircraft missiles needed to bring down a high-flying aircraft.
The plane involved is an E-11A, one of only four in the whole US Air Force.
Essentially it is an adapted Bombardier executive jet, chosen for its ability to fly at high altitude and with extended range.
It is packed with electronics: its job is to enable better communications between air and ground forces, and between different types of aircraft operating in difficult terrain or using incompatible data links.
It is a bit like the wi-fi range extender that you install in a room with a poor signal.
The aircraft – along with similar electronics mounted on unmanned systems – have played an important role in the Afghan conflict, where the mountainous landscape is a major problem for modern military communications.
BBC and AJ