(Bloomberg) — The Taliban claimed responsibility for the downing of a “special American aircraft” flying over Afghanistan on what it described as an intelligence mission, while the U.S. military said there was no indication the plane was hit by hostile fire.
The crash happened on Monday in the Taliban-controlled Sado Khel area of the Deh Yak district in Ghazni province, the Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mustached said in a message via WhatsApp.
“A special American aircraft which was flying over Afghanistan for an intelligence mission was tactically shot down by the Taliban,” Mujahed said. “All on board including high-ranking CIA officers were killed.”
Hours after the Taliban claims, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan confirmed that a U.S. Bombardier E-11A plane had crashed. “While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” Colonel Sonny Leggett said in a statement.
“Appears we have lost an aircraft,” General David Goldfein, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, told reporters in Washington. “We don’t know the status of the crew.”
Earlier on Monday, Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority provided some details.
“The plane was apparently dispatched for military operations and it took off from Afghanistan territory,” said Ghulam Masoom Massumi, the director of air traffic management at the authority, by phone. “The military plane was not a cargo plane.” Massumi added.
He gave no details of the size and make of plane or the number of people on board.
Initially, Afghanistan’s second Vice President, Sarwar Danish, had said that a passenger plane owned by the country’s national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, crashed in the Deh Yak district of Ghazni province. However Ariana denied reports one of its planes was involved and said it was operating as normal.
The incident follows reports last week the U.S. and the Taliban were moving toward a peace deal that would see the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to the 18-year long conflict.
It’s the second time in recent months the two sides have appeared close to announcing an agreement. In September President Donald Trump abruptly called off talks in response to a suicide bombing in Kabul that killed an American soldier.
The militant group controls or contests half of the country, more territory than any time since they were toppled in 2001. The U.S. currently has 13,000 of the 22,673 foreign troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2011.
–With assistance from Glen Carey and Tony Capaccio.
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Photo: © Photographer: ZAKERIA HASHIMI/AFP Afghan security personnel search passengers in a checkpoint on Highway One in Ghazni.