Afghan passenger plane crashes in Taliban-held eastern area

The number of people on board and their fate was not immediately known, nor was the cause of the crash.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A passenger plane from Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines crashed Monday in a Taliban-held area of the eastern Ghazni province, local officials said.

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Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the plane went down around 1:10 p.m. local time (8:40 a.m. GMT) in Deh Yak district, which is held by the Taliban. Two provincial council members also confirmed the crash.

However, Ariana Airlines told The Associated Press that none of its planes have crashed in Afghanistan, according to Mirwais Mirzakwal, the company's acting director. The state-owned airline also released a statement on its website saying all its aircraft were operational and safe.

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The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled. The number of people on board and their fate was not immediately known, nor was the cause of the crash.

The mountainous Ghazni province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter. The Taliban control or hold sway over around half the country.

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The last major commercial air crash in Afghanistan occurred in 2005, when a Kam Air flight from the western city of Herat to the capital, Kabul, crashed into the mountains as it tried to land in snowy weather.

The war however has seen a number of deadly crashes of military aircraft. One of the most spectacular occurred in 2013 when an American Boeing 747 cargo jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram air base north of Kabul en route to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. All seven crew member were killed. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation found inadequately-secured cargo had shifted during flight, causing damage to the control systems that "rendered the airplane uncontrollable."

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Afghanistan's aviation industry suffered desperately during the rule of the Taliban when Ariana, its only airline at the time, was subject to punishing sanctions and allowed to fly only to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage flights.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban's religious regime, smaller private airlines have emerged, but the industry is still a nascent one.