MOSCOW (AP) — An Afghan military plane was downed by Uzbekistan’s air defense system on Sunday over an attempt to illegally enter the country’s air space, Uzbek authorities said Monday.
The downing took place in southeastern Uzbekistan, in the Surkhandarya region on the border with Afghanistan.
A plane crash was first reported by local media. Uzbekistan’s Defense Ministry initially said it was studying videos and reports of the crash, then confirmed the plane crash took place without offering any details. Only later Monday did officials revealed that the plane was downed.
Ministry officials told Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency that the country’s air defense system “averted an attempt by an Afghan military plane to illegally cross Uzbekistan’s air border.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what type of plane it was or how many people were on board.
The Defense Ministry initially said one Afghan serviceman was injured after ejecting himself from the plane. Later Monday, RIA Novosti reported that two pilots from the plane survived the crash and have been hospitalized in serious condition.
Reports of the plane crash appeared Monday as thousands of Afghans packed into the Kabul airport, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country a day after the Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government. U.S. troops fired warning shots as they struggled to manage the chaotic evacuation.
A plane carrying more than 100 Afghan servicemen landed in Tajikistan on Monday, the Tajik Foreign Ministry said. Officials told Russia’s state news agency Tass that Tajikistan received an SOS signal and allowed a plane bound from Afghanistan to land in an airport in the Khatlon province, which borders with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya region.
On Sunday, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry reported that 84 Afghan servicemen crossed the border into Uzbekistan asking for assistance. The group was detained by the border guards and included three wounded soldiers who needed medical help.
The men were offered food and temporary accommodation in Uzbekistan, and the ministry was in touch with Afghan officials regarding the return of Afghan soldiers to their home country.
Caroline Tabler, a communications director for Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, said the GOP lawmaker’s office was working urgently to support Afghan pilots fleeing from the Taliban to Uzbekistan.
“We’re working with an intermediary who’s been in touch with the pilots,” she told the AP. “We have not heard from them since last night (Washington) time. We know Uzbekistan has taken their cellphones. Our primary concern is making sure Uzbekistan does not turn them over to the Taliban. We are frantically reaching out to the State Department on this case and trying to get them asylum and literally can’t get a response.”
Zeke Miller contributed to this report from Washington.