WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. military transport plane crashed shortly after take-off at an airfield in Afghanistan just after midnight on Friday, killing 14 people, the U.S. military said, describing the crash as an accident.
The cause of the crash at Jalalabad airfield was under investigation, the military said.
Six U.S. military service members and five civilian contractors who were employed by the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan were killed in the crash. Three Afghan nationals were also killed, a U.S. military official said.
A spokesman for the Taliban militant movement seeking to topple the government said its fighters had shot down the aircraft, but the U.S. military said enemy fire was not suspected as a factor in the crash.
U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement on Friday expressing condolences to families of the military members, civilians and Afghans who were killed.
“This is a reminder of the risks that our men and women face serving their country in remote places all over the world,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement.
The six military service members were airmen assigned to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. Four were deployed from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, and two were from Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, according to a statement from the unit.
Though enemy fire was not suspected as a factor in the crash, “there is, however, an ongoing investigation by officials to determine the cause of the crash,” the statement said.
First responders were still at the scene conducting recovery operations, the statement said.
The crash came hours after Afghan troops recaptured the center of the strategic northern city of Kunduz on Thursday amid fierce clashes with Taliban militants, three days after losing the provincial capital.
The Taliban have been fighting to regain power since being toppled by a U.S.-led intervention in 2001.
The number of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan has fallen sharply after the United States wrapped up its formal combat mission last year, although U.S. special forces and U.S. airstrikes were involved in this week’s counter-offensive in Kunduz.
In 2011, Taliban militants shot down a U.S. military Chinook helicopter, killing all 38 people on board.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter that its fighters shot down the plane, saying “15 invaders and a number of slave soldiers were killed.”
The insurgents typically claim responsibility for any coalition air crash.
Reporting by Phil Stewart and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington and Kay Johnson in Kabul; Editing by Sandra Maler, Ken Wills, Mike Collett-White and Bill Rigby