Afghan troops have clashed with Taliban fighters as they tried to reach the crash site of a U.S. military aircraft that went down in eastern Afghanistan on Monday.
The militant group claimed it had downed a “special American aircraft” on an intelligence mission, while the U.S. military said Monday there was no indication the plane was hit by hostile fire.
The police chief of Ghazni province said a heavy Taliban presence had blocked access for some 300 elite commandos who’d been sent to the crash site.
“As a result, one commando soldier was killed and all of the commando forces retreated and returned back to the city yesterday,” Mohammad Khalid Wardak said on Tuesday.
Afghan commandos will try to get access to the area again on Tuesday, he added.
The crash happened in the Taliban-controlled Sado Khel area of the Deh Yak district in Ghazni province, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in a message via WhatsApp.
“A special American aircraft which was flying over Afghanistan for an intelligence mission was tactically shot down by the Taliban,” Mujahed said. “All on board including high-ranking CIA officers were killed.”
A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan confirmed that a U.S. Bombardier E-11A plane had crashed.
“While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” Col. Sonny Leggett said in a statement. “Taliban claims that additional aircraft have crashed are false.”
“Appears we have lost an aircraft,” Gen. David Goldfein, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, told reporters in Washington. “We don’t know the status of the crew.”
The incident follows reports last week the U.S. and the Taliban were moving toward a peace deal that would see the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to the 18-year long conflict.
It’s the second time in recent months the two sides have appeared close to announcing an agreement. In September President Trump abruptly called off talks in response to a suicide bombing in Kabul that killed an American soldier.
The militant group controls or contests half of the country, more territory than any time since they were toppled in 2001. The U.S. currently has 13,000 of the 22,673 foreign troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2011.