PENTAGON - U.S. defense officials suspect some sort of mechanical failure is behind the crash of a military communications plane in a Taliban-controlled region of Afghanistan.
The plane, a Bombardier E11-A equipped with a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), went down Monday in Afghanistan's Ghazni province, killing the pilot and co-pilot.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon identified the two as Lieutenant Colonel Paul Voss of Guam and Captain Ryan Phaneuf of New Hampshire.
General Dave Goldfein, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, said in a tweet, "We send our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends" of the two men.
"Let their legacy of service and ultimate sacrifice be an enduring example for each of us," he tweeted.
U.S. forces reached the crash site Tuesday, recovering the remains of the two U.S. service members, as well as what they believe to be the plane's flight data recorder.
That data recorder is still being examined but a defense official told VOA on Wednesday that it appears the plane suffered some sort of mechanical failure, causing it to crash.
Word of the crash first spread Monday on social media in Afghanistan, and Taliban forces were among the first to arrive at the scene, posting video of the wreckage online.
Taliban officials initially claimed their forces had shot down the specialized U.S. communications aircraft, and suggested a higher death toll.
Both claims were rejected by U.S. officials.
"There are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire," U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement issued late Tuesday, noting the cause was still under investigation.
U.S. defense officials have also rejected allegations from some Iranian media outlets that a senior CIA officer involved in planning the airstrike that killed Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani had been onboard and was among those killed.
A U.S. defense official, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity, dismissed the claim, describing it as recycled Taliban propaganda.
After the crash, as U.S. officials sought to get to the site, there were reports of skirmishes between Afghan government and Taliban forces.
U.S. officials also said recovery efforts were hampered by weather conditions in the region, as well as the terrain.
Officials said U.S. forces destroyed what was left of the plane following the removal of the remains of the two-man U.S. flight crew and the recovery of the flight data recorder to prevent any of it from falling into enemy hands.