Taliban claims it shot down US military aircraft in central Afghanistan

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A U.S. military aircraft crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, a Taliban spokesman and Afghan journalist affiliated with the militant group said.

Tariq Ghazniwal, a journalist in the area, said that he saw the burning aircraft. In an exchange on Twitter, he told The Associated Press that he saw two bodies and the front of the aircraft was badly burned. He added that aircraft’s body and tail were hardly damaged. His information could not be independently verified.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a U.S. airforce plane crashed in the Ghazni province. He claimed the crash killed “lots” of U.S. service members. The militant group often exaggerates casualty figures.

Ghazniwal said the crash site was about 10 kilometers from a U.S. military base.

U.S. Army Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, declined to comment when told about the Taliban claim. She earlier acknowledged American military officials were investigating reports of a crash in Afghanistan. She said that it remained unclear whose aircraft was involved in the crash.

Earlier, senior Afghan officials said a plane operated by Afghanistan’s state-owned airline Ariana crashed in the country’s central Ghazni province.

Arif Noori, a spokesman for the provincial governor’s office in Ghazni city, said: “A Boeing plane belonging to the Ariana Afghan Airlines has crashed in the Sado Khel area of Deh Yak district of Ghazni province around 1:10 p.m. local time.” However, Noori later told Agence France-Presse (AFP): “We still don’t know if it is a military or commercial plane.”

Ghazni Gov. Wahidullah Kalimzai told Anadolu Agency (AA) that they still have no concrete information since the plane crashed in an area controlled by the Taliban. A search and rescue unit was dispatched to the area, he added.

However, Ariana CEO Mirwais Mirzakwal stated that the crashed plane did not belong to the airline in remarks carried by the Pajhwok Afghan News and reported by Demirören News Agency (DHA). The airline later dismissed the claim that one of its planes had crashed in a statement on its website, saying all its aircraft were operational and safe.

“There has been an airline crash, but it does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi are safe,” Mirzakwal later told Reuters. Earlier, three senior Afghan government officials said one of the state-owned airline’s planes had crashed in Afghanistan’s central Ghazni province.

Social media was rife with suggestions that the plane was from the state-owned Ariana Afghan Airlines; however, the company said the rumors were “not true.”

“All the flights of Ariana Afghan Airlines have been completed normally,” a statement on the carrier’s verified Facebook page read.

Local officials also told The Associated Press (AP) that a passenger plane from Ariana Airlines crashed in a Taliban-held area.

Rescue teams had been dispatched to the scene, but it was unclear whether Taliban militants would block them from reaching it, Noori said. The plane caught fire immediately after the crash, and it is unlikely that anyone survived the incident, Noori said. The number of casualties was unclear, a second official told Reuters.

Provincial council member Khaliq Dad Akbari also confirmed the crash to dpa, saying that the death toll was unclear. A police spokesman in the province also confirmed the crash but was also unable to identify the craft.

The mountainous Ghazni province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter.

Crashes involving military flights, particularly helicopters, are common in Afghanistan where inclement weather and creaky aircraft are often pressed to their limits in the war-torn country where insurgents have been known to target helicopters.

The last major commercial air crash in Afghanistan occurred in 2005 when a Kam Air flight from western Herat to the capital Kabul crashed into the mountains as it tried to land in snowy weather. The last civilian flight to crash was in May 2010, when an aging Pamir Airways plane went down in bad weather during a scheduled flight to Kabul from the northern province of Kunduz. It was carrying six crew and 38 passengers when it crashed into a mountainside 20 kilometers from Kabul.

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 members were killed.