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.