CH-4 category drones acquired from China by Pakistan (image courtesy @andreasmoun)

Pakistan Deploys Turkish and Chinese Drones in Afghanistan

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By Vahram Ayvazyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Following a hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban took over almost the entire country in the blink of an eye. Almost all districts of Afghanistan (except Panjshir) quickly fell to the Taliban blitzkrieg as they overwhelmed the Afghan Security Forces. Over the past few weeks, scholars and diplomats have been furiously discussing exactly how the Taliban could have overwhelmed and taken over the country so quickly. The one answer that slowly begins to reveal itself is that Pakistan’s top security apparatus and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has greatly aided the Taliban by not only giving them a haven for the last 20 years but also allowing their country to be used as a command-and-control center and thereby allowing the Taliban to maneuver thousands of its troops and swiftly take over Afghanistan.

Recent reports have emerged that Pakistan has also been using Chinese-made drones to assist the Taliban and its offensive in Panjshir Valley, the last bastion for the forces still resisting the Taliban. Pakistani officials have also not been shy about being in favor of a globally condemned terrorist organization coming to power in Afghanistan, even though Pakistan was supposedly a great ally of the US in its two-decade war on terror.  Pakistan happily accepted billions of US dollars over the years from Western countries on behalf of fighting terror but its true hypocrisy came to the forefront for the world to see when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that the Taliban had broken “the chains of slavery.”

According to the Council of Foreign Relation and many other sources, Pakistan has been a major source of financial and logistical support for the Taliban. Pakistan’s ISI even supported it from its inception and Pakistan providing the Taliban with a safe sanctuary is the only reason that the Taliban survived the US’ relentless war on terror for two decades. The Taliban even brazenly owns facilities/infrastructure in Pakistan and also regularly receives donations from private Pakistani players.

Given the growing pressure on Pakistan and the international community’s realization tthat it is a terror haven, Pakistan is not able to provide direct support to the Taliban as it will attract negative publicity at the global level. Pakistan must maintain some level of plausible deniability and that is why as per the latest reports, Pakistan has started using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to support the Taliban while trying its best to keep its involvement hidden.

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On January 27, 2021, Janes, an online defense news portal, revealed that Pakistan had acquired five Cai Hong 4 (Rainbow 4, or CH-4) multirole medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs from China. The order was completed by Chinese defense contractor Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co Ltd (ALIT), arrived in the South Asian country on January 15 as per the export-import (EXIM) logs on the Pakistan Exim Trade Info website. The logs were unable to reveal which variant of the CH-4 it was as there are currently two variants in service, the CH-4A which is primarily used for reconnaissance, and the CH-4B which is capable of carrying a 345 kg weapon payload but has a shorter flight endurance of 14 hours. According to weapon experts, the Chinese UAV can carry weapon payloads including Lan Jian 7 (Blue Arrow 7) laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, TG100 laser/INS/GPS-guided bombs, and AR-1/HJ-10 anti-tank missile, which is China’s equivalent to the American-made Hellfire missile.

Acquired from China, Pakistan’s new CH4 UAVs were recently spotted at Bahawalpur Air Base (image courtesy @detresfa)

While Pakistan has made commendable efforts to conceal the fact that it has weaponized UAVs in service, satellite imagery has often given it away. In addition to the CH variants of UAVs in Pakistan’s possession, there are satellite images of other Chinese-made Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) that have been spotted on several bases throughout Pakistan, leading to strong evidence that the UCAVs are already in active service with various branches of the Pakistani Air Force. These are the Wing Loong 1 Chinese UCAVs. The first confirmed sighting of this UCAV was made in 2016 when one Wing Loong crashed near Mianwali air base in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The UCAVs were further spotted in 2017 and 2018 on satellite images. The successor to Wing Loong 1, the Wing Loong 2 was first spotted at Mianwali air base in July 2021. The Wing Loong 2s received by Pakistan reportedly come equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in addition to a wide range of air-to-ground weaponry. These are also equipped with a total of six hardpoints to carry guided missiles and bombs.

Acquired from China, Pakistan’s likely Wing Loong II UAV was recently spotted at Mianwali (image courtesy @detresfa)

Given the secrecy surrounding whether Pakistan has drones, a lack of official announcement makes the UCAVs the perfect piece of hardware for Pakistan to deploy in Afghanistan to assist the Taliban and its continued offensive in the Panjshir valley while still maintaining plausible deniability and avoiding blame for helping a brutal terrorist organization. Recent reports claiming that Pakistani drones dropped bombs in Panjshir only give more credence to the fact that Pakistan has deployed drones in Afghanistan to assist the Taliban.

While Pakistan and its intelligence service are prepared to use their drones to help the Taliban, it still requires a base of operations in Afghanistan to help operate its drones because the Mianwali air base where Pakistani drones have been speculated to be housed is some 200 km away from the Afghan border. This is where Turkey has entered the fray. On August 20, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey was eager to take over operational control of the Kabul International Airport. He has also stated that a Turkish military presence in Afghanistan will strengthen the Taliban’s presence in the international arena. Back in June, Turkey negotiated with the US over running the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul after the withdrawal of NATO forces. According to reports, Turkey was tasked with keeping the airport open as a safe passage for diplomatic missions in Afghanistan.

Turkey’s control over the Kabul airport provides the perfect base of operations for Pakistani drones and also provides it with plausible deniability. Even if the drones are discovered or traced back to the airport, Pakistan can deny any participation and pin the blame on Turkey, which as a member of NATO will suffer less severe consequences than Pakistan.

Turkey, along with China, has also managed to develop cheap/less expensive UCAVs that they have widely exported to their allies. Drones from Turkey have been used extensively in 2020 in at least three wars with major impacts and multiple casualties. In Libya, Turkey’s fleet of domestically-built Bayraktar TB2 drones overwhelmed and destroyed most of the Libyan National Army’s Russian-built air defense systems and thereby ending the siege on Tripoli. Turkish drones were also present in Syria where they destroyed over 100 armored vehicles belonging to the Assad regime.

Meanwhile, it is important to note that throughout the Afghan peace process, Turkey has been keen to take control of the Kabul international airport and has been offering its ‘assistance’ to control the airport. However, with the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, Pakistan has now handed over the control of the airport to Turkey. Under present circumstances, Kabul international airport is all set to be used by Pakistan for using Turkish drones to attack dissenting groups in Afghanistan. It is believed that the airport was used to initially station the drones before attacking Panjshir.

However, sources suggest that the attack on Panjshir was launched from the Bagram Airfield – the major base for the US air force. The Bagram Airfield is situated in the province of Parwan that shares a border with Panjshir, making it best suited for Pakistan to launch an offensive. The Bagram Airfield is one of the most efficient and capable airfields in the region and contains two runways. In 2015, the US forces enhanced the ability of the airfield by creating an additional runway to support flying missions of different countries throughout the region.

Here, another interesting fact comes into play. Reportedly, China has started to take control of the Bagram Airfield. According to the American press, Chinese armed forces are working on a feasibility study to make the Bagram Airfield a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Moreover, China is also planning to deploy its aircraft and soldiers on the airfield.

Also, experts have not ruled out the possibility of Pakistan using Bagram air base for operating drones.

US political figure and former diplomat Nikki Haley expressed her apprehensions on September 8 over this and argued, “We need to watch China because I think you are going to see China make a move for Bagram Air Force Base. I think they are also making a move in Afghanistan and trying to use Pakistan to get stronger to go against India. So, we have got a lot of issues.”

A view of Bagram Airfield in July 2021 during troops withdrawal by the US and NATO (image courtesy US News)

The calling out of Pakistan’s offensive in Panjshir by using its drones by the international press has been termed as ‘propaganda’ by the Pakistani Army. Talking to the press, Pakistani Army’s spokesperson General Babar Iftikhar stated the charges on the use of Pakistani drones in Panjshir as “complete lies” and “irrational propaganda from India.”

The Pakistani Army argues that the CH-4B category drones in its possession are incapable of carrying out an attack on Panjshir. In this regard, Justin Bronk from the UK based think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) argued, “the CH-4 would need a direct line-of-sight radio control link from a ground station, making it extremely difficult – but not impossible – to operate significant distances from the Pakistani border in rugged terrain.”

The argument strengthens the fact that the drone attacks on Panjshir were launched from Bagram Airfield, which was used as a ground station where a direct line-of-sight radio control link has already been established. The drones were not launched from Pakistan, but from Bagram. In this regard, observers suggest that the Kabul airport, under Turkish control, can be used in a similar manner by the Pakistani army to use its aircrafts and drones and ensure deniability at the same time.

Most importantly, Turkish drones were overwhelmingly used by the genocidal regime of Azerbaijan in the 2020’s 44-day war against Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). In late September 2020, Azerbaijan, Turkey and jihadists launched a broad ground and air offensive which was supported by Turkish drones in the Artsakh territory.

Prominent media outlets and magazines as well as Armenian and foreign intelligence services highlighted the use of Bayraktar TB2 drones by the army of Azerbaijan and Turkey during their aggression against Artsakh. Furthermore, the US-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in one of its reports, highlighted:  “In Nagorno-Karabakh, the TB2 likewise performed well in targeting and destroying enemy defenses. In addition to providing identification and targeting data, the TB2s also carried smart, micro guided munitions to kill targets on their own. Azerbaijan has also used the high-definition cameras the TB2s carry to produce many propaganda videos. Videos showcasing attacks on Armenian fighters and equipment were posted online and broadcast on digital billboards in Baku.”

Turkey and Azerbaijan were thus successfully implementing their aggressive anti-Armenian policy in history’s first 6th-generation war by getting a huge advantage in the air thanks to the Turkish drones. It is needless to warn that Erdoganocracy will further expand the use of their drones against the Armenians and others in the upcoming inevitable conflicts in the MENA region.

Turkish drones have seen so much success that Pakistan is attempting to add to its fleet of Chinese UCAVs Turkish ones, despite its economic challenges and empty coffers.

Turkey has been developing an armed low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle called ‘Kargu’. Kargu has a range of 10 km and can carry six rockets. One remote station can be used for ten drones at a time. In a tweet by Dr. Ali Bakir, a Turkish analyst and assistant professor at Ibn Khaldon Center in Qatar University, revealed that Turkey had recently signed a deal for the export of Kargu drones to an undisclosed country. Reports have also revealed that the Pakistani armed forces (particularly the Pakistani Army) have been interested in acquiring the DJI’s Matrice 300 RTK drone with Zenmuse H20T series quad sensor, payload, and enterprise advanced drone. The Matrice 300 RTK features a flight time of up to 55 minutes and supports up to three payloads and six directional sensing and positioning systems simultaneously.

Still dissatisfied with the current situation, Pakistan has taken steps to create an assembly line of drones in Pakistan itself. Turkey’s leading UAV producer, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), has signed a contract with Pakistan’s National Engineering and Science Commission (NESCOM). According to the memorandum of understanding, TAI and NESCOM will engage in technology transfer and jointly produce components for TAI’s Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) combat drone, Anka. The Turkish drone has a payload capacity of 250 kilograms and can fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet. Pakistan’s expanding UCAV fleet will give it the power to sustain the puppet Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Moreover, the connections between Taliban and Pakistan are well known to the world. Taliban leaders have lived and thrived in Pakistan and very recently wounded fighters of the outfit have been treated in Pakistani hospitals. American political scientist C. Christine Fair wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that “without Pakistan’s intelligence and military establishment’s unstinting support for the Taliban, the group would be a nuisance rather than an effective fighting force.” As a response, there have been growing calls for a tougher stance against Pakistan for its blatant support for terror outfits like the Taliban.

Vahram Ayvazyan is the founder of the Armenian Network State. He is an International Relations and Genocide scholar, startup founder and a Climate Reality Leader, personally trained by former US vice president Al Gore.

Vahram Ayvazyan

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