KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, the U.S. Air Force said, and a military source said both crew members on board were killed.
The Air Force said in a statement that the crash, which took place at 3:15 a.m. local time (2245 GMT on Friday), was not due to hostile action.
“There is an active investigation going on at the site at this time,” Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Reid Christopherson said by telephone from Qatar, the main base of U.S. air operations in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Mohammad Qasim Nazari, chief of the Nawur district of Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, said the crash had taken place in a remote desert area of the district.
He said U.S. forces had sealed off the area.
Christopherson declined to discuss the status of the two crew members, but a military source in Kabul confirmed they had been killed. The source asked not to be identified pending the Air Force’s official announcement of the deaths.
The Strike Eagle is a variant of the F-15 supersonic jet designed to strike ground targets and provide close air support for infantry.
It has been deployed widely in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Crashes by jets are extremely rare in a country where militants have few weapons that can be used against them.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said by telephone from an undisclosed location that the militants had shot the plane down, and claimed it was a transport plane with a number of troops on board, not a fighter.
“We used the same weapons we have used in 30 years of jihad (holy war),” he said.
The Taliban generally claim responsibility for all Western military air crashes in Afghanistan, however they are not known to possess missiles that can shoot down supersonic jets.
July has already become the deadliest month of the eight-year-old Afghanistan war for NATO-led forces since U.S. and British troops launched massive operations in southern Helmand province.
U.S. and NATO commanders say they expected higher casualties in Afghanistan this year as tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops deploy in an escalation strategy ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama.
There are now close to 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, up from 32,000 at the end of last year, with at least 8,000 more on the way. More than 40 other states have a total of about 35,000 troops in the NATO-led force under the command of a U.S. general.
Reporting by Peter Graff and Hamid Shalizi in KABUL; Editing by Paul Tait