Helicopter-borne U.S. forces have recovered the remains of two personnel killed when a military communications aircraft went down in a Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province, the Pentagon has confirmed.
The Bombardier E-11A, used for military communications, went down in a snowy part of eastern Afghanistan on January 27.
A Pentagon statement on January 28 said U.S. forces recovered what is believed to be the aircraft’s flight data recorder and that the cause of the crash is under investigation.
It said, however, that there were no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire. The Taliban had earlier claimed that its fighters had shot down the craft.
The U.S. statement said the remains of the two crew members were found near the crash site and were “treated with dignity and respect by the local Afghan community, in accordance with their culture.”
“Pending positive identification and in accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy, the names of the service members are being withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin is complete,” said the statement, which added that U.S. forces destroyed the remnants of the aircraft.
Earlier, Ghazni police chief Khaled Wardak said U.S. choppers landed at the site in the late afternoon and were reinforced by Afghan security forces on the ground during the operation.
Afghan forces trying to reach the wreckage clashed with militants and had previously been driven back by Taliban fighters, he added.
“Following the removal of the bodies, our forces have moved back to their bases. We don’t know where the foreigners have taken the bodies,” Wardak said.
Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, the head of the provincial council in Ghazni, confirmed the operation, saying the Americans took at least two bodies from the scene.
Earlier on January 28, coalition forces flew sorties over the site of the crashed jet with one aircraft firing flares as a crowd gathered nearby, according to witness reports.
Ghazni police spokesman Ahmad Khan Sirat confirmed the incident, adding that at least one person was killed in the fighting between Taliban and Afghan forces.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Afghan forces backed by U.S. military support tried to capture the area around the wreckage.
He said Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the crash.
Unidentified U.S. officials were quoted as saying the plane was carrying fewer than five people when it crashed.
The crash comes as the Taliban and United States have been in talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
The two sides had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead,” citing Taliban violence.