Drones become Taliban’s latest weapon in Afghan war

Drones become Taliban’s latest weapon in Afghan war
A bicycle where a bomb had been placed sits damaged at the scene following an attack in Kabul Monday. Multiple people were wounded in two explosions in the Afghan capital. (AP)
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Updated 30 December 2020

Drones become Taliban’s latest weapon in Afghan war

Drones become Taliban’s latest weapon in Afghan war
  • A week ago, commando forces shot down a ‘weaponized drone’ in Logar province, south of Kabul

KABUL: On a quiet autumn day last month, bodyguards for the governor of the northern Afghani Kunduz province, Abdul Sattar Mirzakawl, played a volleyball match in the yard of the governor’s guest house adjacent to his residence.

Suddenly, a blast went off, killing four of the players.

Although Kunduz has long remained the most restive area in northern Afghanistan because of Taliban’s heavy presence and routine violence, officials investigating the attack were bewildered by its cause as they could not immediately determine how it had happened.

It took them a day to conclude that it was a device attached to a small drone which was dropped from the sky, part of a new method used by the Taliban in their war of attrition that has lasted nearly 20 years as the US prepares to withdraw troops by next spring.

“Initially, people could not distinguish the source of the blast, but later on it became clear that the Taliban had placed a mine or explosives under a drone that martyred four bodyguards of the governor,” Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani, a member of Kunduz’s provincial council, told Arab News.

“Without any doubt, it was a new tactic and shows the Taliban adopting special methods in the war.”

Despite there having been numerous other drone attacks against military and police bases in Baghlan, Faryab, Logar, Paktia and Helmand provinces for some months, the early November strike was the deadliest, according to officials interviewed by Arab News.

Back in May, a similar attack in Kunduz claimed the life of one official and wounded four others during a farewell ceremony for a former governor, according to Rabbani and two provincial officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A week ago, commando forces shot down a “weaponized drone” in Logar province, south of Kabul, according to press reports.

“Weapons and ammunition attached to drones are becoming the latest lethal trend on the Afghan battlefield,” wrote Bilal Sarwary, a prominent Afghan journalist.

A senior army general in Kabul requesting to remain anonymous told Arab News how the insurgents first used camera drones in Helmand for filming a vast joint Afghan-US base six years ago.

The footage had helped the militants to plan and conduct a massive commando-style assault on the highly protected base which caused casualties and tens of millions of dollars of material losses.

“I watched the film of the attack which was released by the Taliban later on. The camera had filmed the entire attack as it was going on,” he explained.

The insurgents have also used drone cameras in filming other military installations for preparing attacks, the general said, adding that he also had heard that they now place mines or small explosives beneath the commercially available drones for attacks.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed to Arab News the use of a drone, but refused to give other details such as where they get them from and how long they have been using this method.

“Such information is always confidential, we can not talk about this issue.”

Spokesmen for the interior and defense ministries refused to comment about the use of “weaponized drones” by the Taliban.

A spokesman for the office of President Ashraf Ghani’s national security adviser, Rahmatullah Andar, said the Taliban have used drones since last year, with improvised explosives in a number of attacks in different parts of Afghanistan.

But he said they “do not pose any major threat to the government and large gathering of troops as we have measures in place.”

Although Andar downplayed the importance of threat of the low-end drones, a retired general, Javid Kohestani, described it as a worrisome development and a new tactic by the insurgents who have already used some modern technologies, such as night vision and thermal optics in recent years operations.

“It is a threat if they can develop it and use it further. It is cheap and easy to transport and operate,” he told Arab News.

“The government does not have the tracing mechanism and air defense and it is difficult to detect them in dark hours and even during daytime as soldiers are not supposed to look to the sky all day.

“These drones can film bases with big numbers of troops and later target them. If the government cannot stop it, it would be very risky,” Kohestani added.

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
Updated 38 min 29 sec ago

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
  • Taliban spokesman says first vice president wants to sabotage the peace talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday demanded the execution of Taliban prisoners as violence surges in the country in spite of US-sponsored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”