The Taliban Discovers Drones

What does one slick-looking propaganda video mean?

A Taliban drone captures a car bomb explosion (Taliban)
airspacemag.com

The Taliban recently released another propaganda video of a car bomb ramming through checkpoints to reach the doorstep of an Afghan National Police station, then exploding with devastating effect. But this video wasn’t like those the group has released in the past—shaky, grainy footage from handheld cameras. This one showed clear, stable footage captured dramatically from the air. It was shot from a small, relatively inexpensive consumer drone, the purchase of which could easily have been completed anonymously.

The Taliban isn’t the first non-state actor to use drones. Recently, Jund al-Aqsa, a Syrian-based terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, deployed modified consumer drones to drop small explosive devices on Syrian government forces in the country’s Hama province. Just like nations, terrorists and insurgents seem to be transitioning from intelligence-gathering with drones to weaponization, catching up (in a sense) to November 2002 when the U.S. opened the era of drone warfare with a Hellfire missile. Shortly after the Jund al-Aqsa drones proved ineffective, an ISIS drone captured by Kurdish forces exploded, killing two soldiers.  

Where does this lead? As alarming as it may seem, it’s just the normal advancing of technology, making capabilities available to insurgents what were once exclusive to nations: drones, night-vision goggles, radios, and even satellite imagery. This means a squad of Taliban may now be better equipped than 2001-era U.S. troops were when they invaded Afghanistan. How long that lasts, though, is an open question: Already there are plenty of anti-drone products coming to market.

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About Ed Darack
Ed Darack

Air & Space/Smithsonian contributing editor Ed Darack’s forthcoming book, The Final Flight of Extortion 17 (Smithsonian Books, 2017), covers the story of the people and circumstances of Extortion 17 and its downing in Afghanistan in August 2011. The shootdown was the single deadliest incident in the war in Afghanistan. The book grew out of his article in the Feb./Mar. 2015 issue. See his website and Facebook page for more information.

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