US Air Force spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett has confirmed that one of the service’s four E-11A’s (11-9358) has crashed in the Afghanistan province of Ghazni. The E-11A BACN is described as a “WiFI in the sky” aircraft and is instrumental in bridging airspace and ground communications to warfighters in communications-challenged environments. The BACN fleet is comprised of four E-11A manned systems and four EQ-4B Block 20 Global Hawk UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). They provide lifesaving communications to soldiers on the ground and are instrumental in thousands of airstrikes. BACN’s first flight was in November 2005 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, CA.
The E-11A aircraft carries the USAF’s vital Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), which was developed by Northrop Grumman in response to the communications shortfalls from Operation Red Wings, better known as the movie “Lone Survivor.” Serious communication challenges during this operation had ultimately led to the deaths of 19 service members.
But what was allegedly onboard might have been a higher value target. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for downing the aircraft, but Colonel Sonny Leggett said there has been no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire and that investigations are ongoing.
A U.S. Bombardier E-11A crashed today in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire. We will provide additional information as it becomes available.
— USFOR-A Spokesman Col Sonny Leggett (@USFOR_A) January 27, 2020
The Department of Defense issued a press release confirming the deaths of two airmen, Lt. Col. Paul K. Voss, 46, and Capt. Ryan S. Phaneuf, 30, who were both supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Unconfirmed Iranian and Russian intelligence sources are saying that CIA officer Michael D’ Andrea was allegedly aboard the flight, a claim the U.S. is currently denying. D’ Andrea oversaw the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and was the mastermind behind the airstrike on Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Seth J. Frantzman of the Jerusalem Post says that linking the downing to the Soleimani killing would be a major development and would show that Iran is active in Afghanistan with the Taliban. He writes:
Iranian media claims that “many CIA” officers were killed in a plane crash on Monday. The Taliban initially claimed large numbers of Americans were killed, while Russian media and Iranian media then asserted that a senior CIA officer responsible for killing IRGC general Qasem Soleimani was on board. The claim has been greeted with skepticism.
Michael D’Andrea’s name began to appear in Farsi media in the wake of the Soleimani killing when articles at Mehr News and Radio Farda claimed he was involved in planning the US operation. Later on January 27 his name appeared again in rumors after the plane crash. There are many who might have an interest in spreading conspiracies about the Taliban downing high ranking US intelligence officers, nevertheless Iran’s Tasnim ran with the story quoting Russian sources that said the “assassin of Soleimani was on the plane and killed in the crash.” It claims that “Andrea is the most prominent figure in the US CIA in the Middle East. He has been in charge of operations in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.”
The Taliban was quoted as saying they had shot down the plane. Tasnim refers to Andrea as “Ayatollah Mike” and “the Prince of Darkness,” relying on old US newspaper clippings. Press TV of Iran has also included the report, claiming top CIA officers were killed and repeating rumors about Andrea. But the original reports from the Taliban only spoke of a plane being shot down and some CIA members allegedly being on it. The US says that an American E-11A plane was shot down in Ghazni province. Ghazni is around 900 km from the Iranian border.
Linking its downing to the Soleimani killing would be a major development and appear to show that Iran is active in Afghanistan with the Taliban, a claim that has been made in the past. Iran watches US movements in Afghanistan carefully and has met with the Taliban recently. Iran has also tried to down US drones that stray near Iran’s border.
The US has dropped a record number of bombs on the Taliban in the last year as it also tried to push them toward the peace table.
The video below shows the actual E-11A (#11-9358) that crashed in the Taliban-controlled area of Ghazni Province.