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Disinformation: Alleged drone strike in Logar province

On May 17, 2024, reports of a drone strike targeting the Taliban in Logar province surfaced on social media, leading to widespread speculation and conflicting accounts about the incident. Despite official denials of an attack by Taliban authorities, the claim continued to be spread, both by legitimate accounts and by bots.


14 Jun 2024

On 17 May 2024, numerous claims of a drone strike targeting the Taliban in Logar province began surfacing on X (formerly Twitter). 

The earliest mention of this incident traces back to a post by Hamasa Media, a news service based in Afghanistan, reporting an airstrike in the Mohammad Agha district of Logar province; according to this post, the strike was carried out by an unidentified drone. However, the post lacked details regarding the attack, prompting scepticism among social media users. Responses to the post varied, with the majority of social media users dismissing it as false. Many pro-Taliban and pro-Hamas accounts labelled the news as untruthful, with pro-Taliban accounts labelling Hamasa Media as an “outlet run by fugitives.”

Despite these sceptics, the drone strike narrative gained traction as it was shared and summarised by several smaller accounts, including some self-proclaimed geopolitical analysts on X. These accounts asserted that the strike was conducted by an American drone on a significant Al-Qaeda hub; many of these accounts further alleged that the strike resulted in casualties.

Further amplifying the discourse, 8am Media, an independent Afghan newspaper, reported an airstrike on a Taliban camp, referred to as the “Hunting Castle,” housing special fighters affiliated with the Taliban’s Ministry of Interior. This report, too, faced similar scepticism from online commentators.

Subsequently, Mufti Abdul Mateen Qani, the Spokesperson for the Taliban Ministry of Interior, addressed the incident on X. He stated that at 12:30 local time, in the Mohammad Agha district of Logar province, near the Shikar Qala Special Forces Education Centre, a large number of explosives detonated due to Mujahid (fighters’) negligence. He emphasised that the explosion resulted in no injuries.

Despite the official statement, online conversation persisted, with multiple smaller accounts sharing the claim about the drone strike. Interestingly, among these accounts were apparent bot accounts, posting identical content. Upon further scrutiny, AW observed that both the Pakistan Observer and Mahalaxmi accounts, which claim authority on topics including geopolitics and human rights, posted identical conspiracy-style content around the same time (seen below).

Figure: Two separate X (Twitter) accounts sharing identical posts regarding a drone strike in Logar Province, Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Observer identifies as an independent media group, covering security and defence topics, but often indulges in conspiracy theories. For instance, the account claimed alleged external involvement in the Iranian President’s helicopter crash earlier in May 2024, stating Iranian Intelligence was searching for an Indian man. A comment from d-intent an account that focuses on counter-disinformation disproved the post in a comment. 

Similarly, the Mahalaxmi account appears to predominantly focus on similar posts that are disproven. For example, one post from 20 May 2024 claimed that a US conspiracy was responsible for the Iranian President’s helicopter crash the previous day.

Confirmed drone activity in Afghanistan

Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, the US took precautionary air strikes from drones on suspected ISIS-K locations in Kabul. One location was misidentified, and resulted in the death of 10 civilians, including children. 

Then, in July 2022, the US Central Intelligence Agency performed a targeted drone strike on a home in Kabul, killing Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the General Emir of Al-Qaeda. 

In September 2022, a drone strike in Helmand province appeared to target Taliban members. The strike, which was not attributed to any country, struck the 203 Mansoori Corps. Reports from 8am Media indicated that the Brigade Commander and 20 other Taliban fighters were killed. Some online claims suggested that the strike was conducted by a US military drone, however AW have been unable to verify this claim.  

Alleged drone activity in Afghanistan

Following these confirmed drone strikes, there has been an increase in reports of drone activity in Afghanistan by civilians, Taliban members, and media. In many situations observed by AW, reported drone sightings in Afghanistan appear to be misinterpretations of other phenomena or possible instances of deliberate disinformation. 

For example, AW analysts determined that a video shared by Afghanistan International, depicting a purported drone over Bagram Airbase in January 2023, was actually a Cessna-style aircraft, consistent with those used for surveillance by the former Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. A comparison between the video and a similar aircraft can be seen in the figure below.

Figure: Analysis of a plane that was mistaken for a drone in video footage in 2023.

While it is not certain that this was a deliberate attempt to spread disinformation, it demonstrates how easily misinformation regarding drone activity can be spread. 

More recently, on 31 March 2024, Afghanistan International shared a video purportedly showing a drone over Panjshir province. Upon analysis, AW determined that the object in question more closely resembled a glider plane than a drone, as evidenced by its shape and flight patterns. 

AW note that glider piloting requires a level of skill beyond that typically associated with regular flight operations, which suggests a potential increase in aviation capabilities among certain factions within Afghanistan, if the origin of the glider’s path was indeed Afghanistan. Due to poor footage quality however, AW analysts were unable to identify a tail registration number, and were thus unable to provide further analysis on this incident.

It is the assessment of AW analysts that comments circulating about the alleged drone strike in Logar province on 17 May 2024 are likely another instance of disinformation proliferating on social media. Despite official clarifications from the Taliban Ministry of Interior, false narratives have persisted, spread by both legitimate and what appear to be bot accounts. This incident underscores the ongoing challenge of distinguishing between fact and fiction in Afghanistan’s digital landscape.

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