New Delhi: The Taliban, which seized control of Afghanistan last month, has armed drone units of its own that track and take down ‘targets’. The units were also deployed during the fighting in Panjshir Valley, the last resistance holdout in the war-torn country, according to a report in Newlines Magazine.
The report said the drones were “purchased” in China through a front company and the parts were “smuggled” into Afghanistan via Pakistan.
While the armed drones used in the Taliban’s fight with the National Resistance Front (NRF), led by former Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh and NRF founder Ahmad Massoud, were attributed to Pakistan, it has now emerged that the insurgent group managed to convert drones used for spraying pesticides into armed UAVs.
When reports of Pakistan using armed drones in support of the Taliban had first come out earlier this month, sources in India’s defence and security establishment had told ThePrint that one will have to be careful and see who the drones actually belong to.
“When the drone team was established sometime around 2019, its remit was clear. While other sections of the Taliban were free to use basic civilian drones for surveillance, and the Haqqani network was allowed to carry out the occasional uncoordinated drone attack in the south and east of the country using equipment it acquired independently, the hit squad was the only drone unit with official operational approval from the Taliban’s leadership,” the report said.
Taliban modified drones to carry RDX instead of pesticide
The first drone is reported to have cost the Taliban around $60,000.
The Taliban engineers then modified it by replacing chemical tanks and hoses for carrying and spraying fertiliser and pesticides with a makeshift plastic missile rack capable of holding four mortar rounds that could be fired via a computer-activated spring mechanism, the report claimed.
It added that the unit’s engineers then changed the fuses on their usual mortars for more powerful versions containing RDX.
Further, the black drones and the RDX mortars were painted blue to camouflage them against the sky.
“The drone was set up to be controlled in flight using a combination of laptop computers and smartphones that were connected to the internet via a portable satellite terminal,” the report said.
The drone units
Headquartered in the northern province of Kunduz, the elite drone unit is a team of engineers-turned-fighters and was tasked to monitor and assassinate Afghan government officials in the north.
The report said that after several trial-run attacks on checkpoints of the Afghan security forces, the Taliban’s first major operation with the new drone came in the northern city of Kunduz on 1 November 2020, when it killed at least four bodyguards of a provincial governor while they were playing volleyball in his compound.
Interestingly, the US was aware of the drone attack capability of the Taliban.
The magazine reported that the Taliban in February wanted to use drone to hit American soldiers, but it was called off “after U.S. service members spotted the drone and relayed a complaint to the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, noting that it would violate the terms of the nationwide withdrawal agreement the Trump administration struck with the Taliban in February 2020”.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)