WASHINGTON — A plane that crashed in Afghanistan’s central Ghazni province on Monday, reportedly killing everyone on board, has been confirmed as belonging to the U.S. Air Force.
The chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. Dave Goldfein, confirmed to CNBC that the plane is a U.S. Air Force E-11 military airplane, built by Bombardier. The plane crashed in territory currently under Taliban control. He was unable to confirm whether the aircraft was targeted by hostile fire, nor could he confirm details about potential casualties.
“We don’t know the status of the crew,” Goldfein said.
“Here’s another thing I’ll share with you, every time I’ve been through this, which, unfortunately, has been a number of times, the first reports are always wrong, always wrong. So we have to make sure that we have the facts right and as soon as we have those facts I promise you we will get them to you,” he added.
Speaking to reporters during a Pentagon press briefing, 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.”
U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in a statement that the cause of the crash was under investigation and that there were “no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire.” Leggett added that Taliban claims of additional downed aircraft were false.
The E-11A is an electronics surveillance aircraft used to bridge communications on the battlefield. Given the mountainous and rugged terrain in Afghanistan, the E-11A is essential for transmitting communications between ground units, commanders as well as other assets in the region. The aircraft is assigned to the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, had said earlier that it remained unclear whose aircraft was involved in the crash.
The wreckage of an airplane is seen after a crash in Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan January 27, 2020
“U.S. Central Command is aware of the reports of a U.S. aircraft crash in Afghanistan. We are currently monitoring the situation and will provide additional information when possible,” she told CNBC.
U.S. Central Command has declined to speculate on who or what might be responsible for the aircraft crash.
Arif Noori, a spokesman for the governor’s office in Ghazni, said fire brigades, security officials and rescue teams were at the scene of the crash.
It was initially reported to be a plane from the state-owned Ariana Afghan Airlines. However, the airline’s acting CEO Mirwais Mirzakwal has since denied that one of its planes had crashed.
“There has been an airline crash but it does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi are safe,” Mirzakwal told Reuters.
A Facebook account belonging to the airline also said that if any crash did happen, it didn’t involve one of its planes.
The spokesman for the provincial governor said the plane went down around 1:10 p.m. local time in the Deh Yak district. Two provincial council members also confirmed the crash, according to AP.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the group was checking on news of a plane crash, Reuters also reported.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) currently has a notification that cites Afghanistan airspace warnings from a number of countries. The U.K. Aeronautical Information Service suggests a potential risk to aircraft flying below 25,000 feet due to “anti aviation weaponry.”
A map showing Ghazni Province in Afghanistan.
United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advises “extreme caution” when flying into Afghan airspace, adding that ground time in the country should be minimized.
A spokesperson for Ariana Afghan Airlines was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.
—Matt Clinch and David Reid contributed to this report from CNBC’s bureau in London. Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.