Officials Recover Remains at U.S. Military Plane Crash Site in Afghanistan – The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Two sets of remains have been recovered at the site where an American military plane crashed in Taliban-controlled territory outside Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday, American military officials said, after a day in which United States forces struggled to get to the site.

American officials had indicated on Monday that they thought the two-person crew of the plane had most likely not survived the crash, which occurred in the district of Deh Yak in Ghazni Province during a day of harsh weather.

Officials in Ghazni said the effort to recover the remains had begun Monday evening, but forces had not been able to retrieve the bodies until Tuesday.

“Since yesterday, the area has been under the control of the foreign air force,” Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, the chief of the Ghazni provincial council, said on Tuesday afternoon. “An hour ago, the foreign air forces got into the incident site and took two bodies out.”

The country’s vice president and other senior Afghan officials had initially said that the plane that went down was a passenger jet operated by the country’s national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines.

Nearly 10 hours after the crash, the United States military confirmed that the plane was one of its own: a Bombardier E-11, a rare advanced communication aircraft deployed to Afghanistan and used to help ground troops talk to American aircraft overhead. The statement provided little other detail.

“While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” said Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the military in Afghanistan.

Initial reports were conflicting on whether those onboard had survived and were taken by the Taliban, or whether all had been killed.

Taliban social media accounts posted pictures and videos of what they said was an aircraft that they had shot down, but the group is known to exaggerate its claims. The plane appeared wrecked and in flames amid snow. Officials said the harsh weather and the inaccessibility of land controlled by the Taliban had made gathering information difficult.

Even after military officials said only two people were aboard, rumors of survivors continued in Ghazni.

“Now the Taliban have started searching the houses,” said Amanullah Kamrani, a member of the Ghazni provincial council. “Since this morning, they went to every single house and checked to see if the villagers were hiding Americans.”

The aircraft went down around 1 p.m. local time Monday, and confusion about even the most basic details continued for hours. The country’s vice president, Sarwar Danish, who said it had been a passenger plane, had even expressed “condolences about their martyrdom to the people of Afghanistan.”

Further confusing the situation, reports in Iranian news and social media framed the crash as a retaliation for the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the powerful Iranian commander killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad. Iranian news media reports went as far identifying a C.I.A. official they said had been killed in the plane, which they said was shot down. American officials dismissed those reports.

About 12,000 American troops and thousands of NATO forces remain spread around Afghanistan. Officers from the headquarters in Kabul frequently shuttle to bases by aircraft, and surveillance planes are often deployed over battle areas.

Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and Mujib Mashal from Kabul, Afghanistan. Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul.