Pakistan’s Army has started training terror groups in the use of explosive-laden drones to carry out attacks on targets in Jammu and Kashmir, a move inspired by Islamic State fighters who have used commercially-available drones or quadcopters to target forces in Iraq and Syria for years.
According to intelligence inputs, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence had come up with the idea of replicating the IS successes in use of cheap drones to carry out small bomb attacks and not just carry out surveillance or capture live feed for attacks to be used for propaganda. The ISI laid out its plan first at a meeting with senior Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed commanders in Punjab province’s Taxila in April this year. There was a follow-up meeting the next month at the brigade headquarters in Kotli district of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Of the options that were explored at these meetings were the use of quadcopters that could have a range of three km and could carry up to 5 kg explosives. The drones were rigged to carry and drop small quantities of munition on enemy targets.
Islamic State fighters had almost perfected the tactic on the battleground, prompting the United States and drone manufacturers to spend millions of dollars on research and tweaks in the drone technology to stop what some called, the ‘killer bees’.
Don Rassler, who studied the drones and their impact at the United States Military Academy’s center on combating terror, found that the IS innovation had inspired many copycat versions. He counted the Iraqi security forces as one of the first to deploy them to attack adversaries. By 2017, the IS’ innovation inspired a gang in Mexico caught with firearms and a drone carrying explosives.
Pakistan’s ISI is going to be another. The Border Security Force has already spotted a spike in the number of drones in the air across the International Border with Pakistan.
A senior Indian counter-terror official said the BSF and the army had been told to stay prepared to neutralise the little flying machines that could be used to target security camps and posts near the border.
But it is unlikely that if drones fly in from across the border, it would remain one-way traffic.
“If Pakistan starts it, there could be retaliatory attacks in equal measure, with or without the drones,” said the official, adding that New Delhi was likely to authorise similar cross-border attacks using drones in the first instance. “The (security) forces have started work on it after the inputs about the Pakistani plan first came in,” he said.
Pakistani agencies and its instruments – arms and narco-traffickers – have used drones in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir but this has been mostly used to beat the floodlit fence to smuggle drugs, weapons, explosives and fake Indian currency.