That the Taliban may be more actively carrying out attacks using low-end drones certainly reflects a worrisome development with regards to the group, which has already been employing other more modern technologies, especially night vision and thermal optics, in its operations in recent years. At the same time, it is hardly surprising given the obvious benefits drones could offer, especially when it comes to targeting VIPs
If the attacks this past weekend and in May were carried out by drones, it shows that the Taliban now has the ability to execute more precise attacks inside what have been traditionally more secure areas in Afghanistan, such as inside fortress-like government compounds. In the past, the Taliban has more commonly relied on insiders to gain access and then launch suicide attacks inside these kinds of facilities to try to kill key government figures. It has also long had the ability to launch indirect, but also more imprecise attacks using rockets and mortars against these kinds of targets.
While the immediate message from the Taliban to Kunduz governor Omarkhel seems clear, how the militant group’s continued use of this tactic in that province or anywhere in the country might ultimately impact the course of the conflict is less so. Talks between the U.S. government and the Taliban, as well as between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan, appear to have stalled despite the Trump Administration signing a framework agreement with Taliban representatives for how to proceed in February.
At the same time, despite continued Taliban attacks and other activities intended to undermine the authority of the central government in Kabul, there is a continued push by President Donald Trump’s Administration to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Beyond the Taliban, there is the matter of the ISIS franchise in the country, which also presents a serious threat to peace and stability and that appears to have just carried out an attack on Kabul University today, killing 19 people and wounded 22 more. The Taliban have denied responsibility.
The U.S. military has also acknowledged conducting airstrikes on what is formally known as ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) in such a way as to benefit the Taliban, who are also fighting this terrorist group. Last month, The Washington Post
published a detailed piece on the U.S. forces, including elements of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), that are running what has come to be euphemistically referred to as the “Taliban Air Force.”
Of course, small drones carrying out attacks in Afghanistan also simply underscore how this threat continues to proliferate and become more ever-present among both non-state and state actors. Striking the governor’s residence in Kunduz only further highlights how this technology could enable very real attacks on VIPs and other sensitive targets anywhere in the world. All of this, as well as the need for the development of countermeasures, is something that The War Zone
has explored and underscored on multiple occasions.
Just last week, the U.S. State Department issued what appeared to be the first-ever alert of a possible impending low-end drone or missile attack in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. Thankfully, that attack does not appear to have occurred, but Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen did launch so-called “suicide drones” against targets in southern Saudi Arabia on the same day, something that has become a regular occurrence.
All told, Taliban drone attacks look set to present an increasingly serious challenge for Afghan security forces and their international partners, but it’s not at all surprising that the militant group is employing this relatively-low cost and potentially high-reward tactic.
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