An American aircraft crashed in the Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan on Monday. Pentagon officials have denied the Taliban reports that the aircraft was shot down. The bodies of two pilots have been recovered by U.S. forces, but additional recovery efforts are being hampered by poor weather.
The aircraft was assigned to the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan posted on Twitter, “A U.S. Bombardier E-11A crashed today in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. While the cause of the crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire. We will provide additional information as it becomes available.”
He added, “Taliban claims that additional aircraft have crashed are false.”
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday that he was “aware of the situation” and that he had “nothing further to report at this time,” at a Pentagon briefing.
Khalid Wardak, the provincial chief of police in Ghazni told media members that U.S. forces airlifted two bodies from the crash site on Tuesday. However, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, said that Afghan forces backed by American military forces had tried to capture the area around the crash site and clashed with Taliban fighters.
That attempt was defeated he said but added that the Taliban would grant access to a rescue team to recover bodies from the crash site. “Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the U.S. airplane crash,” he said, adding that while there could have been more, the militant group could not be certain, as the fire had reduced everything to ashes.
The crashed E-11A Bombardier, is an electronic surveillance and communication platform that provides the uplink between the troops on the ground and the aircraft in the sky. It has been referred to as the Air Force’s “WIFI in the sky.” Given the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan, the E-11A platform is essential for maintaining communications between ground units, commanders as well as other assets in the region. The disaster from Operation Redwings where the terrain blocked effective communications between ground, air, and headquarters units made the development of the E-11A and its use essential.
Although the E-11A Bombardier is a fairly large aircraft, it has only a crew of two, with the rest of the airframe packed with state of the art electronic gear. It normally flies at high altitude, which would preclude the Taliban from shooting it down.
U.S. officials have said that the pilot of the E-11A declared an in-flight emergency shortly before the crash. But the cause of the crash is still undetermined and they’ve said that they haven’t ruled anything out at this point.
Although about 13,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, the United States and the Taliban have been working on working out the details of a peace deal.