An American military communication aircraft crashed in Taliban-controlled territory on Monday afternoon, the United States forces in Afghanistan confirmed after hours of confusion over whether a civilian aircraft crashed.
The aircraft, described as E-11A, went down in the Deh Yak district of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province at 1 PM local time, January 27. “While the cause of the crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed in a Persian-language statement that the group shot down a U.S. plane in the Ghazni province, describing it as an “achievement.” But in English-language and Pashto-language statements, the group just confirmed a U.S. military aircraft crashed in areas under their control.
Social media accounts connected with the Taliban group erupted with footage and videos of a burning aircraft in a snow-packed desert. The footage showed remains of the aircraft, though Inside Over was unable to verify the footage.
Reports of the casualties conflicted. The Taliban group claimed that several high-ranking C.I.A. officials were dead. But the U.S. military rejected these claims, saying two people were flying the aircraft. Initial reports suggested that two people were found dead on the crash site, while some reported there were survivors.
The aircraft, known as Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, sometimes called “Wi-Fi in the sky,” is used to connect ground troops with American aircraft and to extend the range of radio signals. The aircraft was in regular use as the country’s mountains make it hard for troops to communicate via radio signals.
This incident caused public panic in the country and social media users spread the news that the aircraft belonged to Afghanistan’s national airline, Arianna. Sarwar Danish, Second Vice President of Afghanistan, expressed “condolence about their martyrdom to the people of Afghanistan.”
Hours later in the early evening of Monday, Afghan local officials said the aircraft belonged to “foreigners,” a term used to describe 12,000 U.S forces deployed across the country to train Afghan security forces and battle the Taliban. U.S.-led troops often conduct airstrikes on the Taliban and the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan.
In 2019, U.S. Air Forces Central Command said that American aircraft dropped 7,423 munitions in the country, a record number that proceeded any other year since 2006. The U.S.-led troops flew nearly 8,800 operations in 2019, during which over a quarter of them carried out strikes.
The U.S. airstrikes, however, do not always kill the Taliban fighters. The Afghanistan Human Rights Commission said on Tuesday that a U.S. drone strike killed at least ten civilians, including three women and three children. The U.S. forces command in Afghanistan confirmed they had conducted the airstrike at the request of the Afghan forces on January 8 in the western Afghan Herat Province.
Since the withdrawal of U.S.-led combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the U.S. forces and alliance countries heavily rely on airstrikes to fight Taliban insurgents in the turbulent country. U.S. President Trump increased troop numbers in 2017 and launched an air campaign to win the longest U.S. war abroad.
In July 2018, President Trump ordered diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban to end the 19-year long insurgency in the country. U.S. diplomats and Taliban representatives held several rounds of talks in Doha, Qatar, seeking an agreement under which the U.S. withdraws its troops completely and the Taliban cut ties with terrorist groups.
As of January 2020, the Taliban offered a “reduction of violence.” In return, the U.S. would then withdraw its troops from Afghanistan completely. The U.S. diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad also pushed for the long-term “reduction of violence.” The Afghan government, however, demands a comprehensive ceasefire for the peace talks.