Screengrab from the video aired by Afghan TV channels
Screengrab from the video aired by Afghan TV channels | Twitter
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New Delhi: Afghan TV channels had broadcast an unverified video Monday, suggesting that a plane that crashed in the Ghazni province belonged to the US Air Force. A day later, several OSINT handles have identified the plane as a Northrop Grumman E-11A, and posted clearer video footage of the wreckage.

The Taliban claimed to have downed the aircraft, saying it was carrying “many high-ranking CIA officers” on an intelligence mission. But the US military Tuesday said it was an accident, and that there was no indication the plane was hit by hostile fire.

The government of Afghanistan had earlier said a passenger plane owned by the country’s national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, had crashed, but Ariana had denied the reports.

Meanwhile, according to the BBC’s international media insight Twitter handle @BBCMonitoring, the Iranian media highlighted the Taliban’s claim to have downed it, with the BBC monitoring stating that the headline in Vatan-E-Emruz read “Enemy’s bloody day”.

The same handle quoted Iranian state TV as saying that senior CIA officer Michael D’Andrea, who it claimed had a key role in killing Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, was killed in the crash. The channel showed a representational image of actor Fredric Lehne, who played a character based on D’Andrea in the movie Zero Dark Thirty.

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ThePrint explains the significance of the Northrop Grumman E-11A.

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An airborne communications node

Former Indian Air Force Mirage pilot and air warfare writer Sameer Joshi said the E-11A that went down in Afghanistan, is a “converted Bombardier Global Express Business jet loaded with specialised communications equipment — known as ‘Battlefield Airborne Communications Node’ or BACN”.

“The United States Air Force maintains a small presence of four E-11 aircraft at Kandahar, with the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron. The aircraft operate as ‘Wi-Fi in the sky’, with specialised equipment that relay communications and serve as a bridge between otherwise incompatible systems like ground stations, aircraft, helicopters, UAVs and other assets in the tactical battlefield area,” he said.

Joshi further said the aircraft was developed as an urgent operational need after communication shortfalls were identified during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in 2005.

“Unlike most other USAF aircraft, E-11 crews come from other aircraft types and often are rotated to fly the plane for the first time while deployed in Afghanistan. The aircraft flies over Afghanistan constantly — it crossed 10,000 sorties in 2017, about eight years after being deployed in the country for the first time,” he said.

Joshi added that the video posted online shows the wreckage, with the cockpit and main fuselage heavily damaged and burning. “The tail of the aircraft is largely intact, with the tail markings of the Air Combat Command seal, tail number 11-9358, and USAF roundel clearly visible,” he said.

An article in The War Zone section of the online publication The Drive said the E-11A that has a “canoe” on the bottom and a “teardrop” on the top is the one with tail number 9001, affectionately referred to as “Snowball”. The 9001 was the first E-11A fielded with the BACN payload, and it was also the BD-700 test aircraft.

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