Its automated heat-seeking guidance and target system worked efficiently and was deadly. CIA-supplied Afghan Mujahedeen used Stingers to down hundreds of Soviet attack and transport helicopters and aircraft between 1986 and 1989. In fact, according to many sources, during the Afghan War the Soviet army lost 118 transport aircraft and 333 various kinds of helicopters, many of which were downed by the Stingers. The missiles also forced Soviet generals to change air assault tactics. Its deadly potency sowed fear among thousands of Soviet pilots and troops.
All in all, the Stingers weakened Soviet air power in Afghanistan to the point that sufficient cover could not be provided to the ground forces, which eventually resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Soviet army.
After having facilitated the defeat of the Soviet army some 20 years ago by the Stingers, the US has been trying to do the same to some extent with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan with a special weapon as well. This weapon is the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the shorter name of which is simply drone.
US drones of many kinds, armed and unarmed, have been hovering in the skies over Afghanistan and its border regions with Pakistan since 2001 and they have been successful both in monitoring the insurgent ground activity and in eliminating insurgent leaders and militants. Lately the drone activity has increased both in numbers and extent. In the first three months of this year, close to 40 attacks have been carried out against the insurgent targets and for the first time this week the drones attacked a Taliban headquarters in a village in Orakzai Agency in Pakistan, killing 12 people.
Orakzai is a non-al-Qaeda area, and in the past few months it has become a regional hub for both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militant activities. There are many areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan where foreign as well as Afghan and Pakistani militant groups have gathered together to carry out attacks against NATO forces, but Orakzai Agency can truly be termed the new hub of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
It is the backyard of a militant group under the command of Anwar ul-Haq Mujahid, who also has two important strongholds in Nangarhar province from where his forces carry out attacks and disappear into the harsh terrain of Khogiani or the Tora Bora Mountains, which border Orakzai Agency. Tora Bora is of course now a significant place in modern history, because it is where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden escaped the US Special Forces in 2001. Orakzai is important not only for becoming a new hub but also for being chosen by the Taliban as a base to send fighters into the Khyber Agency to attack NATO supply convoys.
After Orakzai, the drones might attack other places, extending their reach farther into Pakistan, which, of course, is categorically against these attacks. Despite this, it is expected that the US will not stop these attacks simply because the Pentagon officials claim that the drones have done more than any other weapon system to track down insurgents and save American lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Consequently, they have become one of the military's favorite weapons despite many shortcomings resulting from the rush to get into the battlefield in Afghanistan.
The drones also forced the leaders of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban to restrict their movements and flee to other places where the drones cannot reach them.
In fact, considered a novelty a few years ago, the US Air Force's drone fleet has grown to 195 Predators and 28 Reapers. All in all, the number of military drones has soared to 5,500 from a mere 167 in 2001. This of course clearly shows the significance the Pentagon attributes to the drones.
The drones are playing and will continue to play a major role on the Afghan battlefield. That is for sure. But to what extent they will determine the course and outcome of the war, nobody can predict.