Striking While the Irony is Hot: Afghan Government, Taliban May Soon Acquire Spy Drones from U.S.

Spencer Ackerman
January 17, 2013


An AeroVironment Raven drone ready for launch at Forward Operating Base (FOB) McHenry in Iraq

An AeroVironment Raven drone ready for launch at Forward Operating Base (FOB) McHenry in Iraq
PHOTO: U.S. Army

Yesterday, when Afghan president Hamid Karzai boasted that the U.S. was about to give him his own fleet of drones, you may have been tempted to see the mercurial leader with his hand on the joystick of an armed Predator. Please disabuse yourself of that notion. The Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday that it’s in talks to sell the Afghans drones. But the drones will be tiny, low-flying, and unarmed.

The Defense Department is currently negotiating with the Afghan government to sell it military helicopters, airlift transport planes and other hardware. That weapons package “does include unmanned systems,” Lt. Cmdr. William Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman, tells Danger Room.

But don’t expect the Afghans to suddenly get Predators — or anything like them. The iconic armed American drone can stay aloft for an entire day until it takes out a suspected militant with a Hellfire missile. The Afghans will likely get the Raven, a four-pound, hand-launched surveillance drone that can fly for an hour or so. The U.S. Army alone has over 5,300 unarmed Ravens at last count. Replace the high-end infrared camera with something more modest, and you buy something awfully similar yourself for a couple hundred bucks.

The possible drone sale came up during discussions at the Pentagon last week between Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and President Karzai. Upon returning to Afghanistan, Karzai told a press conference that the U.S. would soon supply the Afghan security forces with the unarmed drones. “They will train Afghans to fly them, use them and maintain them,” Karzai said on Monday, per The New York Times.

Karzai is slightly ahead of the Pentagon. There’s no finalized deal for the drone fleet. The Pentagon is still talking with the Afghans about how many small spy drones it’s willing to sell the Afghans. Nor do Pentagon officials have a sense of when they’ll finalize a deal for the weapons sales. Apparently the drones are not the highest priorities for either military in the forthcoming arms deal: transport aircraft are. Drones were not part of the Afghans’ “wish list” for weapons purchases, first reported last month by The Wall Street Journal.

Read the full article— Pentagon Swears It Won’t Sell Killer Drones to Afghanistan, Just Spy Ones