Top US spy ‘behind Iran general’s assassination’ is ‘killed in downing of jet’

A top CIA chief who orchestrated the assassination of an Iranian general was killed when a US military plane crashed in Taliban territory in Afghanistan, it is claimed.

The US has not yet commented on reports that Michael D’Andrea, who was involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and is nicknamed the "Dark Prince", was on board the jet and among those killed.

The Taliban claims it shot down a US spy plane, which had US Air Force and Air Combat Command logos, but hasn't provided any evidence. The US has denied the claims.

There were conflicting claims over the number of dead and people on board, with the Taliban claiming it recovered six bodies, an Afghan police chief saying four were dead and two were missing, and a US official stating the jet was carrying fewer than five people.

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D'Andrea, the head of CIA operations against Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq, is said to have planned America's killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad earlier this month.

The Bombardier E-11A aircraft that went down in the central province of Ghazni on Monday afternoon was the mobile CIA command for D'Andrea, the Veterans Today website reported.

The report, quoting Russian intelligence sources, claims D'Andrea was killed.

The CIA veteran is one of the most senior American spies, joining the CIA in 1979, and was given the nickname "Ayatollah Mike" for his operations against Iran.

He was involved in the hunt for 9/11 terror mastermind bin Laden and is said to have overseen drone strikes that killed thousands of Islamist militants and hundreds of civilians in the Middle East.

D'Andrea was the inspiration for the character of "The Wolf" in the Hollywood film Zero Dark Thirty, which dramatised the search for bin Laden, who was assassinated in a US raid on his secret compound in Pakistan in May 2011.

D'Andrea previously served as director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center between 2006 and 2015, when he was publicly known only by his codename, "Roger".

When he was outed in a New York Times report in 2015, he was described as a "gaunt, chain-smoking convert to Islam" who oversaw the CIA's detention, interrogation and torture programme before he "became an architect of the targeted [drone] killing programme.

It is said that he converted to Islam to marry his wife, Faridah Currimjee D'Andrea.

In 2017, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration had appointed him to run the CIA's espionage operations against Iran.

The Taliban said there were no survivors after the plane went down in the snow-covered and mountainous Deh Yak district.

Washington said an E-11A had crashed, but it disputed the Taliban's claims that it brought down the plane.

The US military did not reveal how many people were on board or if anyone was killed.

Photos posted on social media allegedly show charred bodies and documents recovered from the wreck after the plane exploded into flames.

The remains of passengers and/or crew, the charred wreckage and anything salvaged from the aircraft are now in Taliban hands.

Afghan special forces, rescuers and air crash investigators have been unable to access the site, and soldiers were repelled after clashing with Taliban fighters near the remote site.

Ghazni provincial police chief Khalid Wardak told Reuters that security forces were ambushed by the Taliban.

He added: "As per our information, there are four bodies and two on board were alive and they are missing."

The Afghan troops were given an order to retreat, he said, adding that airborne action is to be taken instead.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Reuters that Afghan forces backed by US military support had tried to capture the area around the crashed aircraft and clashed with fighters of the Islamist militant group.

The attempt was repelled, he said.

He said the Taliban would allow a rescue team access to recover bodies from the crash site.

He added: "Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the US aeroplane crash."

The Taliban spokesman said there could have been more victims, but the militant group could not be certain because fire had reduced everything to ashes.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, US officials said the plane was carrying fewer than five when it crashed, with one official saying initial information showed there were at least two.

The site has not been visited by US officials or any other members of the international force in Afghanistan, but the Taliban claim to have brought down the plane is misleading, a US defence official told Reuters.

The official said a preliminary probe showed there was a mechanical error.

The crashed aircraft, built by Bombardier Inc, is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.

Earlier, US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col Sonny Leggett said: "A US Bombardier E-11A crashed today [Monday] in Ghazni province, Afghanistan.

"While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire.

"We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

"Taliban claims that additional aircraft have crashed are false."

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