US Air Force plane crashes in Afghanistan

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This photo provided by Tariq Ghazniwal shows an aircraft that crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (Tariq Ghazniwal via AP)

WASHINGTON — An Air Force communications plane crashed in eastern Afghanistan Monday with “less than five onboard,” a U.S. official told Fox News.

It was not immediately clear if there were any survivors. Officials said there were no indications that the plane — a Bomardier E-11A — was shot down, Fox reported.

The Taliban control much of Ghazni province and have total control over the local area of the crash.

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 the aircraft’s body and tail were hardly damaged. His information could not be independently verified.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the U.S. Air Force plane crashed in the Ghazni province.

Ghazniwal said the crash site was about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from a U.S. military base. Local Taliban have been deployed to protect the crash site, he said, and several other militants were combing the nearby village for two people they say survived the crash.

Ghazniwal said the site was near a village called Sado Khelo, in the Deh Yak district. He also said the crash occurred soon after 1 p.m. local time, but residents in the area did not report a loud crashing noise. He couldn’t say whether the aircraft had been shot down but “the crash was not loud.”

Images on social media purportedly of the crashed plane showed an aircraft bearing U.S. Air Force markings similar to other E-11A surveillance aircraft photographed by aviation enthusiasts. Visible registration numbers on the plane also appeared to match those aircraft.

The so-called Battlefield Airborne Communications Node can be carried on unmanned or crewed aircraft like the E-11A. It is used by the military to extend the range of radio signals and can be used to convert the output of one device to another, such as connecting a radio to a telephone.

Colloquially referred to by the U.S. military as “Wi-Fi in the sky,” the BACN system is used in areas where communications are otherwise difficult, elevating signals above obstacles like mountains. The system is in regular use in Afghanistan.

The mountainous Ghazni province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter. The Taliban currently control or hold sway over around half the country.

We will update this developing story as we learn more.

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