Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is reportedly aiding the Taliban in their quest to capture Panjshir province of Afghanistan by providing them with Chinese-made armed CH-4 drones.
CH-4 drones look almost identical to General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, and the only distinct visual difference between two UAVs is that the ventral fin below the V-tail on MQ-9 is absent on CH-4.
Various social media posts from people familiar with the Afghan situation said that the PAF used these drones to drop bombs and sent Special Forces to assist the Taliban in their battle against the Northern Alliance to capture the defiant Panjshir province, reports said.
However, there is no cofirmation either from Pakistan or the Taliban of the use of Pakistani military equipment or special forces in Panjshir province. The presence in Kabul of the Pakistan intelligence agency, ISI chief, Lt Gen. Faiz Hamid has added to the mystery of Islamabad's involvement on the side of the Taliban.
On Sunday, leader of National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), Ahmad Massoud claimed that the Taliban was backed by the PAF. NRFA is a military alliance of former Northern Alliance members and other anti-Taliban fighters who remain loyal to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, created after the 2021 Taliban offensive.
Massoud said that the Taliban was not strong enough to attack Panjshir, but added that it was now backed by Pakistani drones and helicopters. Massoud stated the Taliban is being supported by ISI Chief Lt. Gen Faiz Hamid from Kabul.
China is said to have delivered an unspecified number of CH-4 drones to Pakistan in January 2021. It is not known when and how, and if these drones were delivered to the Taliban.
The Resistance Front spokesman, Fahim Dashti, however, rejected the Taliban’s claim of taking Panjshir districts. “Panjshir’s Paryan has been completely cleared of Taliban. At least, '1,000 terrorists' were stuck as their entrance and exit ways were closed. All the aggressors were arrested or killed by the local people with support from the resistance forces while they were fleeing. A big number of those arrested are foreigners and most of them are specifically Pakistanis,” Dashti tweeted.
Pakistan Intelligence Agency ISI’s chief, Lt Gen. Faiz Hamid arrived in Kabul Sunday to “provide technical support for Afghanistan to restart operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul,” Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported. However, the news outlet quoted a local journalist, Sami Yousufzai as saying, “Although Hamid says his visit is for Afghanistan-Pakistan issues and for the Afghan passengers, I think his trip to Kabul has caused concerns among the Afghans and it means Pakistan will recognize the government that the Taliban will announce.”
China’s CH-4 combat drone
The CH-4 drone has a maximum take-off weight of 1300kg and a payload of 345kg in addition to its electro-optical turret and synthetic aperture radar. The aircraft has a wingspan of 18m and length of 8.5m. It is powered by a 100 hp class piston engine giving a top speed of 235 km/h and cruise speed of 180 km/h with endurance of up to 40 hours.
Equipped with air to ground missiles such as the AR-2, the CH-4 presents itself as formidable close-combat weapon, especially when up against targets which don’t have drone detection technology.