Yesterday, the Taliban claimed on social media and on its propaganda mouth piece Voice of Jihad that its fighters shot down “a spy plane or drone of the US aggressors” near Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. The group said that the wreckage came down in territory under their control. As of yet, no official US or coalition spokesperson has confirmed the loss of a drone or verified the Taliban’s claims.
Multiple social media users in circles supporting the Taliban posted the same picture (below) of a downed US drone claiming it was the “spy plane” from the group’s statement. However, after further research, it’s clear the image is most likely a screenshot from a completely unrelated 2014 video showing Afghans surrounding a US drone “in southern Afghanistan.”
The Taliban statement did not directly connect the likely-erroneous image to this particular incident, but so far has offered no other proof. Without unique and verifiable evidence provided by the Taliban, or a statement from a US official confirming the loss, no conclusions can or should be made on whether the downing is legitimate.
The Taliban has made claims like this in the past, only to have them be proven false. Only last year the Taliban similarly claimed to have downed a US drone, but the photo they used as proof (again) turned out to be a copycat image of a drone that had crashed into an Arizona mountainside in 2006. Even when not outright discredited, other Taliban claims of shooting down US drones (like in 2009 and 2012) have not been verified by US officials.
Kunduz province has been the focus of Taliban efforts for years, and just this summer the group proved that their operations in the province remain valuable. Successes in a northern province like Kunduz help build up the group’s reputation as a power that can span the country.
Phil Hegseth is a social and digital media specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal.