KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S. military aircraft crashed in a Taliban-controlled area outside Kabul on Monday, the U.S. military command in Afghanistan said, following hours of confusion after officials had initially identified the plane as a passenger airliner.
The plane crashed in the district of Deh Yak in Ghazni province during a day of harsh weather, Afghan officials said. Senior officials, including the country’s vice president, initially said it was a passenger plane operated by the country’s national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines.
Nearly 10 hours after the crash, the U.S. military, in a statement that provided little detail, confirmed that the plane was one of its aircraft and said it saw no evidence that it had been downed by enemy fire.
The statement described the plane as a U.S. Bombardier E-11, a rare advanced communication aircraft deployed to Afghanistan and used to help ground troops talk to U.S. aircraft overhead.
“While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” said Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the military in Afghanistan.
Leggett would not comment about how many were on board or their status. Officials in Ghazni, based on information from local residents as well as Taliban messages, said the aircraft probably had a crew of half a dozen people. U.S. military experts, however, said the plane is frequently flown by a team of just two.
Reports were conflicting on whether those onboard survived and were taken by the Taliban, or whether all had been killed.
Taliban social media accounts posted pictures and videos of what they said was an aircraft that they had shot down, but the group is known to exaggerate its claims. The plane appeared wrecked and in flames amid snow. Officials said the harsh weather and the inaccessibility of land controlled by the Taliban had made gathering information difficult.
The aircraft went down around 1 p.m. local time and confusion about even the most basic details continued for hours. The country’s vice president, Sarwar Danish, who said it had been a passenger plane, had even expressed “condolences about their martyrdom to the people of Afghanistan.”
But hours later, Alem Shah Ibrahimi, the president of Ariana, said the company’s initial information showed that “all our fleet are located.” Qasim Wafayezadathe, the head of Afghanistan’s civil aviation agency, said it had confirmed that no civilian plane had crashed.
By early evening, officials in Ghazni revised their accounts. Adam Khan Sirat, a spokesman for Ghazni police, said the plane belonged to “foreign forces,” referring to the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan.
About 12,000 U.S. troops and thousands of NATO forces remain in Afghanistan, spread around the country. Officers from the headquarters in Kabul frequently shuttle to bases in aircraft and surveillance planes are often deployed over battle areas.