- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2020

An American military plane crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, Pentagon officials said, though it remains unclear whether any U.S. service members were killed.

The Defense Department said there’s no evidence that the Bombardier E-11A — an Air Force surveillance plane — was brought down by enemy fire over the Ghazni province. But the Taliban controls much of the area, fueling suspicions that Taliban fighters may have targeted the aircraft.

Following the crash, Taliban militants reportedly were searching nearby villages for two Americans believed to have survived the crash.

U.S. officials said little about the incident, but did contest Taliban claims that additional American aircraft also had gone down.

“A U.S. Bombardier E-11A crashed today in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” tweeted Col. Sonny Leggett, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “We will provide additional information as it becomes available.”

Taliban claims that additional aircraft have crashed are false,” he added.

Shortly after the crash, American military personnel secured the scene and launched an investigation into the cause of the incident.

The question of Taliban involvement could prove a critical one. Monday’s incident comes at a delicate moment in peace talks between the Trump administration and Taliban leaders aimed at securing an elusive peace agreement and ending America’s nearly 20-year military involvement in Afghanistan.

While the two sides are reportedly close to an agreement, previous rounds of negotiations have broken down after Taliban fighters continued to target U.S. personnel across Afghanistan. In September, for example, Mr. Trump at the last minute called off a planned Camp David summit with Taliban leaders after the group perpetrated an attack that killed an American soldier in Afghanistan.

The withdrawal of American forces has been a key demand of Taliban leaders throughout the negotiation process, while the U.S. has insisted that the group agree to a full cease-fire and negotiate directly with the U.S.-backed Afghan government in Kabul.

Details surrounding Monday’s crash remain murky but there may be some evidence pointing toward a mechanical failure. The Associated Press quoted Tariq Ghazniwal, a journalist in the area who released photos and video of the crash site Monday, as saying that the aircraft’s body and tail were hardly damaged.

It is likely that the plane’s body would have suffered damage if it were hit by an enemy rocket, for example, though military officials stressed that they are not ready to definitively state the cause.

Soon after the news broke early Monday, Taliban leaders quickly took to social media to claim that an “enemy” aircraft went down but offered no detail of the possible cause.

“Enemy intelligence aircraft crashed in Sado Khelo area of Deh Yak district #Ghazni noon hours today resulting in all crew & high-ranking CIA members killed,” tweeted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

“Wreckage & dead bodies laying at crash site,” he continued.

— This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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