Taliban warned US against future drone ops - report

The Taliban claimed that the US use of drones goes against not only international law but also “its obligations to the Islamic Emirate of Doha, Qatar.”

 A Taliban soldier stands on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 16, 2021.  (photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)
A Taliban soldier stands on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 16, 2021.
(photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

Iranian media have trumpeted a report that the Taliban warned the US against drone operations, which the group says violates obligations to Qatar. Of interest here is that the Taliban claimed the US use of drones goes against not only international law but also “its obligations to the Islamic Emirate of Doha, Qatar.”

The Taliban says the US has violated Afghan airspace with drones. “These violations must be corrected and prevented. We call on all countries, especially the United States, to abide by international laws and commitments to prevent any negative consequences,” the Taliban said in a statement, according to the Iranian report.

The Taliban warned that the US would face consequences if it continued its “illegal drone operations over Afghanistan’s airspace,” Fars News Agency reported Wednesday. “A statement issued by the Taliban on Tuesday reiterated its commitment to the country’s territorial integrity, including its airspace, and reiterated Washington’s commitments under the February 2020 Doha Peace Accords,” the report said.

The US is violating the Doha agreement by using drones over Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Sabihullah Mujahid was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.

The US has used drones over Afghanistan for two decades, and they were the backbone of the US war against the Taliban. As the US withdrew in late August, a drone strike killed an innocent family in Kabul.

The US insists it can conduct counterterrorism operations, the Fars report said. “We have no agreement with the Taliban on not using Afghanistan’s airspace to fight terrorism,” the US was quoted as saying.

Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Al-Udeid airbase in Doha, Qatar in this recent undated handout.REUTERSEvacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Al-Udeid airbase in Doha, Qatar in this recent undated handout.REUTERS

The report has been picked up by some other media. If the Taliban begins to see US drone operations as a provocation, it is not clear what ramifications this could have. It appears other countries, such as Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China, would like to limit the US use of drones in the region as well.

That means the Taliban may be pushing for Pakistan and other countries to increase pressure on the US against the use of drones. The US has used air bases in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and other areas in the Gulf for operations in Afghanistan’s airspace in the past.

It is unclear whether this could mean the US becomes more reluctant to use drones so far from its bases. In June 2019, Iran shot down an expensive US Global Hawk drone. The US used a drone to kill Iran’s Qasem Soleimani in January 2020 in Iraq. Iran has in the past sought to shoot down US drones using various means. It also brought down a US Sentinel drone in a 2011 incident.

That the Taliban is referencing US deals in Doha as evidence the US must end drone operations points to deeper questions about what the US discussed with the Taliban in Qatar as part of a deal to withdraw US forces.