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- An Air Force plane that crashed in Taliban-held territory in Afghanistan on Monday was an airborne-communications node that supported troops on the ground, the Air Force’s top officer said.
- Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein confirmed that the plane was an E-11A but said the status of the crew was unknown.
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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Monday morning confirmed that a US military plane that crashed in Afghanistan was an E-11A airborne-communications aircraft.
When asked to confirm it was an E-11 that crashed, Goldfein said it was and that he had been told about it en route to an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC, but said he did not have complete information about the crash or its cause.
“It appears we have lost an aircraft. We don’t know the status of the crew,” Goldfein told reporters.
“Our A3, director of operations, and [Air Force Central Command] commander, Gen. [Joseph] Gustella, are working with Gen. Miller to make sure … we know what’s happened and how to deal with it,” Goldfein added, referring to Gen. Scott Miller, the head of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said Monday afternoon that the cause of the crash was still under investigation but “there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire.” Leggett also denied Taliban claims that there had been other crashes.
US military officials previously told Fox News the aircraft was an E-11A, which is made by Bombardier, and that it had crashed in Taliban-held territory in Ghazni province, which is north of Kandahar in eastern Afghanistan, a few minutes after 1 p.m. local time. The officials also told Fox News that “less than five” people were on board at the time.
A local journalist told The Associated Press he had seen two bodies lying beside the aircraft. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed in a statement that all passengers, which he said included high-ranking CIA officers, were killed.
“Every time I’ve been through this, which unfortunately has been a number of times, first report’s always wrong,” Goldfein said on Monday. “So we’ve got to make sure we have the facts right” before sharing additional details.
Videos taken at the scene showed the E-11’s heavily damaged cockpit and main fuselage, which were on fire. The tail of was mostly intact with the Air Combat Command seal, tail number 11-9358, and USAF roundel clearly visible, according to Air Force Magazine.
The Air Force keeps four E-11s at Kandahar Airfield. The long-range business jets have been modified to carry the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, which links communications for forces on the ground, allowing different systems to talk to each other.
The node also connects ground troops with forward air controllers and joint terminal attack controllers, who direct airstrikes and other air support in a non-line-of-sight environment, according to The Aviationist.
The E-11As flying out of Kandahar are operated by the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, which was created to fill what the Air Force has called “a joint urgent operational need” because of the challenges that Afghanistan’s terrain posed for communications.
The E-11s arrived in Afghanistan in 2009 and flew its 10,000th sortie in February 2017, according to the Air Force, which said the aircraft has been called “as essential to mission success as bullets.”