A U.S. military refueling aircraft with seven Marines on board crashed in southwestern Pakistan today, Pentagon officials said. There was no immediate word of survivors.
The Marine Corps KC-130 crashed into a mountain near the town of Shamsi in southwestern Pakistan, Maj. Chris Hughes, a spokesman for the U.S. Marines Corps, told a press briefing in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
The aircraft had taken off from Jacobobad in Pakistan and was on a multi-mission flight when it went down, Hughes added.
He declined to provide the names of the seven people on board pending notification of the next of kin.
U.S. officials told ABCNEWS there was no indication the plane was shot down, but the incident was under investigation. There were no distress calls, sources said. The plane simply disappeared from radar.
Witnesses said they saw flames while the aircraft was making a final approach for a nighttime landing at the Shamsi Air Base west of the Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan province. Rescuers rushed to the scene in the difficult mountainous terrain.
A $37 million refueling aircraft, the KC-130 is also used for troop and cargo delivery and evacuation missions.
U.S. Officials Informed of Release
The news of the crash came as Afghan officials in southern Afghanistan told ABCNEWS that U.S. officials in Kandahar were informed of the decision to release three former Taliban ministers before they were set free.
The release of the three senior Taliban leaders after their surrender on Tuesday sparked questions about why the former ministers — some of whom were responsible for harsh Taliban rulings and may have valuable information to offer — were released without being questioned by U.S. officials.
A spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry in the capital of Kabul said the interim administration headed by Hamid Karzai was conducting an investigation into the release of the Taliban leaders to determine if there were any irregularities.
In a televised address to the nation from Kabul today, Karzai called for the establishment of a new national army and announced broad economic goals.
"Let us join together and make a national army," he said in the local Dari language before outlining plans to control inflation and promote economic growth.
The release of the three senior Taliban leaders has raised questions of Karzai's authority in the still partially lawless state and represents a missed opportunity for the United States.
Before news of their release, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged the value of having access to the Taliban leadership. "Obviously, individuals of that stature in the Taliban leadership are of great interest to the United States, and we would expect that they would be turned over, absolutely," he said.
But Afghan officials told ABCNEWS the men were released on the understanding that their whereabouts be known to Kandahar's governor, Gul Agha, and with the agreement that they would return to Kandahar if asked to.
There has been no confirmation from U.S. officials that they were aware the former ministers were being released.
A Well-Known Figure in Kabul
The three Taliban ministers included former Taliban Justice Minister Nooruddin Turabi, whose dreaded ministry enforced the Taliban's hard-line edicts, such as the blasting of two magnificent 5th-century Buddha statues in Afghanistan's central Bamiyan province despite worldwide condemnation.