Pentagon breaks silence over the number of casualties in military plane crash in Afghanistan

Pentagon breaks silence over the number of casualties in military plane crash in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - Following two days of silence and reported investigation, the Pentagon has confirmed that two U.S. airmen were killed in an Air Force plane crash Monday in Afghanistan.

"The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two airmen who were supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel," it said in a statement released on Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Paul K. Voss, 46, and Capt. Ryan S. Phaneuf, 30, died Monday in the crash of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft in Ghazni, central Afghanistan, it said.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

On Monday U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) spokesman Col Sonny Leggett announced that a U.S. Air Force plane crashed in Afghanistan, without giving information on casualties.

"While the cause of the crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire," Leggett tweeted.

However, the Taliban claimed that its forces had shot down the U.S. plane.

Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, claimed in a statement on social media, "All staff and passengers, including key officers of the CIA, have been killed," posting pictures and video of a plane with apparent U.S. markings.

Afghan officials earlier in the week had said their forces were pushed back by Taliban snipers when they tried to approach the crash site.

The controversial crash came as the U.S. and Taliban have been negotiating a peace deal in a bid to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Although criticized by the Afghan government at times, the two sides had been talking for over a year and were actually on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when U.S. President Donald Trump suddenly and unilaterally called of the process, citing Taliban's killing of an American soldier.

Despite ongoing peace talks in Qatar's capital Doha, the U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan dropped a record number of bombs in 2019, according to a recent data by the U.S. air forces.

The U.S. military conducted 2,434 airstrikes in the war-hit country to drop 7,423 bombs, marking a steady rise over 7,362 weapons released in 2018, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) said in a report on Monday. - Anadolu Agency