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U.S. military confirms plane crash in Afghanistan, disputes claims it was brought down


By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Idrees Ali

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Monday an E-11A aircraft crashed in Afghanistan's Ghazni province, but disputed claims that the Taliban had brought the military plane down.

Senior Afghan officials told Reuters the authorities had rushed local personnel to locate and identify the wreckage, in a mountainous area partly controlled by the Taliban.

"While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire," a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Sonny Leggett, said in a statement.

The military aircraft, built by Bombardier Inc, is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.

The crash comes as the Taliban and United States have been in talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Trump has long called for an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which began with a U.S. invasion triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that al Qaeda launched from then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Negotiations between the two sides began last year in Doha but have been interrupted at least twice after Taliban attacks on U.S. military personnel in September and December.

Last week, another round of talks kicked off with U.S. Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad meeting repeatedly with the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The military did not say how many were on board or if anyone was killed.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that fewer than five people were on the plane when it crashed. One official said that, according to initial information, at least two people were on the plane.

Pictures and a video on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft. Reuters could not verify the images.

"The plane, which was on an intelligence mission, was brought down in Sado Khel area of Deh Yak district of Ghazni province," said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in a statement.

Mujahid did not say how fighters had brought the plane down. He said the crew on board included high ranking U.S. officers. A senior defense official denied that senior American officers were involved.

The Taliban controls large parts of Ghazni province. The militant group, which has been waging a war against U.S.-led forces since 2001, often exaggerates enemy casualty figures.

Civilian airline Ariana Afghan Airlines denied initial reports that it was the owner of the plane.

"It does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today, from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi, are safe," its acting CEO, Mirwais Mirzakwal, told Reuters.

Two officials from Ghazni province said the crashed aircraft appeared to belong to a foreign company.

"There is no exact information on casualties and the name of the airline," Ghazni provincial Governor Wahidullah Kaleemzai told private broadcaster Tolo News earlier on Monday.

Dozens of private entities operate planes and helicopters across Afghanistan to move military contractors and aid.

(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul and Idrees Ali in Washington; Additional reporting by Rupam Jain, Hamid Shalizi, Phil Stewart; Editing by Peter Graff and Lisa Shumaker)

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