By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Idrees Ali
KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday recovered the remains of individuals from a U.S. military aircraft that crashed in Afghanistan and was in the process of confirming their identities, a U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.
On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft crashed in the province of Ghazni but disputed Taliban claims to have brought it down.
Earlier on Tuesday, Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where the U.S. military aircraft crashed as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold.
The U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said multiple attempts had been made to recover the remains but had been hampered because of the terrain and weather.
The Pentagon declined to comment.
Security forces were sent to the site immediately after receiving a report of the crash in the Deh Yak district, but were ambushed by Taliban fighters, Ghazni provincial police chief Khalid Wardak told Reuters.
“As per our information, there are four bodies and two onboard were alive and they are missing,” Wardak said, adding that the forces subsequently received an order to retreat and airborne action is to be taken instead.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Afghan forces backed by U.S. military support had tried to capture the area around the crashed aircraft and clashed with fighters of the Islamist militant group.
The attempt was repelled, however, he told Reuters, but added that the Taliban would allow a rescue team access to recover bodies from the crash site.
“Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the U.S. airplane crash,” he said, adding that while there could have been more, the militant group could not be certain, as fire had reduced everything to ashes.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said the plane was carrying fewer than five people when it crashed, with one official saying initial information showed there were at least two.
The crashed aircraft, built by Bombardier Inc, is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.
The crash came as the Taliban and United States have been in talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
Trump has long called for an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which began with an American invasion triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that al Qaeda launched from then-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
(Additional reporting by Rumpam Jain; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)