A US military aircraft crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, a Taliban spokesman and Afghan journalist affiliated with the armed group said.
Tariq Ghazniwal, a journalist in the area, said he saw the burning aircraft. He told The Associated Press he saw two bodies and the front of the plane was badly burned.
Ghazniwal added the aircraft’s body and tail were hardly damaged. His information could not be independently verified.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a US Air Force plane crashed in Ghazni province. He claimed “lots” of US service members were killed.
“An aircraft of American occupiers has crashed in Ghazni province,” Mujahid said in a Pashto-language statement, adding all onboard died.
Confusion clouded the Taliban statement, however, with one version saying the plane crashed while another said the armed group brought down the aircraft.
US Army Major Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for US Central Command, declined to comment when told about the Taliban claims. She earlier acknowledged American military officials were investigating reports of a crash in Afghanistan. She said it remained unclear whose aircraft was involved in the crash.
Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the plane went down at 1:10pm local time (08:40 GMT) in Deh Yak district, some 130km (80 miles) southwest of the capital Kabul. He said the crash site is in territory controlled by the Taliban.
Afghan airline denies lost plane
Senior Afghan officials said details remained unclear as authorities sought to locate the aircraft’s wreckage in the mountainous province.
Three government officials earlier said the plane was operated by Afghanistan’s state-owned airline Ariana Afghan Airlines, but its acting CEO Mirwais Mirzakwal denied those reports.
“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,” the airline’s acting CEO Mirwais Mirzakwal told Reuters news agency.
A senior official in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office in Kabul said a plane crashed near Ghazni province and authorities were still seeking details.
Official sources in the province said the plane was en route to Ghazni from Herat when it crashed.
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from the capital, Kabul, said: “The spokesman for the governor of Ghazni province has said that according to his people on the ground, this is was not an Afghan aircraft, so that would suggest that this is not an Ariana Airlines aircraft as previously was suspected by many people.”
“We know that Afghan security forces are at the scene and reports we are hearing from those eyewitnesses is that all passengers on board are deceased,” he added.
“There are no survivors and only the pilots’ bodies are recognisable at this stage and those Afghan soldiers are saying as far as they are concerned from the wreckage and the bodies of the pilots that they do not appear to be Afghan.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of Afghanistan also denied reports the plane was a commercial flight.
The mountainous Ghazni province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter.
The last major commercial air crash in Afghanistan occurred in 2005 when a Kam Air flight from western Herat to the capital Kabul crashed into the mountains as it tried to land in snowy weather.
The South Asian nation, however, has seen several deadly crashes of military aircraft.
One of the most spectacular occurred in 2013 when an American Boeing 747 cargo jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram Air Base north of Kabul en route to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. All seven crew members were killed.