When Lieutenant Mohammad Amin and his comrades first spotted small drones near their checkpoint early last year, they dismissed them as toys used by children in the city close by. “These were toy drones, operated remotely through smartphones,” said Lt Amin, who is using a pseudonym for fear of Taliban reprisals.

But they soon realised the drones were being operated by Taliban fighters close to their post, a strategic checkpoint north-east of the provincial capital of Kunduz. The northern Afghan province has fallen to several Taliban sieges in the past three years.

“We noticed several times that the besarnisheen were being used for videos recording the Afghan security forces, and later for targeting us,” he said, using the Dari word for unmanned drones.

Afghan soldiers have shot down many of these devices only to find they were not military-grade drones but instead commercially available quadcopters used for surveillance, modified to carry small explosives that were dropped on Afghan bases.

“Once we shot one of the besarnisheen and next time they sent one with a mortar attached. It fell on our base and detonated, killing one of our soldiers and injuring one other,” he said.

Military drones have long been used in Afghanistan, especially by the US forces, and have been credited with keeping the war in favour of the Afghan government. Foreign forces conduct regular attacks on Taliban areas and posts using drones but increasingly in the last year, the Taliban have also adopted the practice in attacks across the country, albeit with commercial rather than military-grade models.

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