Iran says CIA agent behind Soleimani killing shot down in Afghanistan

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Iranian media claims that “many CIA” officers were killed in a plane crash on Monday. The Taliban initially claimed large numbers of Americans were killed, while Russian media and Iranian media then asserted that a senior CIA officer responsible for killing IRGC general Qasem Soleimani was on board.

Michael D’Andrea’s name began to appear in Farsi media in the wake of the Soleimani killing when articles at Mehr News and Radio Farda claimed he was involved in planning the US operation. Later on January 27 his name appeared again in rumors after the plane crash.

There are many who might have an interest in spreading conspiracies about the Taliban downing high ranking US intelligence officers, nevertheless Iran’s Tasnim ran with the story quoting Russian sources that said the “assassin of Soleimani was on the plane and killed in the crash.” It claims that “Andrea is the most prominent figure in the US CIA in the Middle East. He has been in charge of operations in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.”

The Taliban was quoted as saying they had shot down the plane. Tasnim refers to Andrea as “Ayatollah Mike” and “the Prince of Darkness,” relying on old US newspaper clippings. Press TV of Iran has also included the report, claiming top CIA officers were killed and repeating rumors about Andrea.
But the original reports from the Taliban only spoke of a plane being shot down and some CIA members allegedly being on it. The US says that an American E-11A plane was shot down in Ghazni province. Ghazni is around 900 km from the Iranian border.

Linking its downing to the Soleimani killing would be a major development and appear to show that Iran is active in Afghanistan with the Taliban, a claim that has been made in the past. Iran watches US movements in Afghanistan carefully and has met with the Taliban recently. Iran has also tried to down US drones that stray near Iran’s border.

The US has dropped a record number of bombs on the Taliban in the last year as it also tried to push them toward the peace table.

Many social media users are interested in the claim that Andrea may have been on the plane. One of the first users to report the claim noted that Andrea “masterminded the murder of Imad Mughniyeh, former Hezbollah chief of staff, back in 2008.” However others have pointed out that while this could be big news it could be disinformation or designed merely to create the appearance that Iran had responded to the Soleimani killing. Iran has promised “hard revenge” against the US. Some Iranians on social media who support the regime in Tehran have been celebrating the downing of the plane.

The Taliban spokesman meanwhile says they are still investigating who was killed on the plane and have not confirmed the top CIA officer was among the dead. Photos placed online show burned bodies of the dead. A website noted a Taliban statement saying the found some documents on the plane but that the corpses those on board were burned.