Sniper films a new propaganda tool for the Taliban

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The black and white films show ghostly images of men in combat gear protecting themselves behind destroyed walls at the intersection of Taliban snipers, who in the dark cover them one by one.

While the Taliban have been known to use thermal imaging technology for night fighting for several years, the Afghan insurgents are increasingly publishing sniper videos online as part of a blatant propaganda campaign. A study by France 24 Observers shows that most of the films have thermal ranges that are commercially available for civilian use.

This is a video from the Croatian Broadcasting Corporation. Video clips are not included in the video, but you should try to find one. Videos from March, March, 2015, on the subject of this article, as well as some of the current events in the United States. در حالی که ارتش افغانستان از اعلام دقیق امار قربانیان خود خودداری میکنند با این حال رسانههای افغانستان از کشته شدن هفت سرباز ارتش این کشور در منطقه بلخ در پی حمله «نیمه شب» طالبان در تاریخ 6 مارس خبر دادهاند. © Observers

In this screenshot from a video that the Taliban published on Twitter on March 11, 2021, an Afghan soldier is seen at the crossroads of a Taliban sniper. The rebel group claimed that the video showed an operation in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province.

The latest video was released on March 11 on one of the Taliban’s official Twitter accounts with an English caption “NV Operations, Balkh Province.” The two-minute video shows the sniper taking two shots at a figure in combat gear protecting himself behind a wall. A third shot appears to hit the soldier. Three subsequent shots appear to strike three of his comrades, including a shot fired through a hole in a wall.

A similar video posted on closed Taliban groups on Telegram in mid-February appeared to show a sniper striking at least 9 Afghan soldiers in 17 minutes. The video was published as a two-minute edit, with a soundtrack of threatening music reminiscent of a video game.

This video and video clip is from the Minority Mourning Center. If you are trying to get rid of clutter you may find that this is not the case at all times. © Observers

This video was published by Taliban supporters in mid-February 2021. It is an approximately two-minute edit of what appears to be a 17-minute film, during which at least nine Afghan soldiers are hit by a single Taliban shooter.

While various fighters in the Middle East, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran’s IRGC and the Afghan army, have in the past used video games for propaganda purposes and pretended that the images showed thermal imagery from real operations, experts believe these new Taliban videos are genuine.

As the Afghan army rarely counts victims of Taliban attacks, it is impossible to verify the circumstances of the individual videos, but experts say they are consistent with the Taliban’s new battlefield activity.

According to a UN report published in 2019, at least one man is equipped with a sniper rifle with a night vision scope for each typical troop with 10 to 16 Taliban insurgents. Afghan media reported on March 6 that Taliban insurgents had killed seven Afghan soldiers in a “midnight attack” in Balkh. And an incident on October 21, 2020 in which 48 Afghan soldiers were killed by Taliban shooters in a single night in the northeastern province of Takhar gave rise to a parliamentary inquiry.

Where do the Taliban get the thermal range?

In recent years, US and Afghan officials have claimed that Russia has provided weapons including night vision equipment to the Taliban. The Taliban spokesman claimed in 2017 that insurgents bought such equipment directly from soldiers from Afghan and US forces, and US officials have noted that equipment issued to their Afghan allies often disappears.

However, most of the Taliban night videos released in recent months came from commercially available thermal ranges designed for civilian use. Thermal range is a form of night vision device that converts heat into images, which means that warm-blooded animals, including humans, are visible even in total darkness. A military expert who has been following the tactics of the Afghan uprising for several years, and who requested anonymity for this article, explains:

Military analysts, along with the Afghan army and the UN, have sounded the alarm about the Taliban’s use of thermal and night vision ranges since mid-2018. The units have had a direct impact on the battlefield: there is a difference between when the Taliban had a few dozen of these scopes and now when they have hundreds of them.

The units have tipped the balance between firepower in certain battles and have caused serious damage to the Afghan National Army. The videos reveal another problem: the lack of training of Afghan soldiers. They have no idea what to do in these situations.

The Taliban usually pick up the devices on the civilian market in neighboring countries. Each scope costs between 1500 and 5000 euros. They and their followers publish the videos as a form of propaganda.

They want to show their strength against their opponent. The Taliban sometimes post such videos on their official Twitter accounts, but they are often released by Taliban supporters on closed platforms such as Telegram, WhatsApp or private Facebook groups. The Taliban is not a concentrated hierarchical group and its media activities are confusing. It is not as clear as the Islamic State.

The scopes are generally available for civilian use, such as hunting

Thermal scopes are widely available for civilian uses such as hunting and are a frequently discussed topic in YouTube videos and other social media platforms. By watching YouTube videos and comparing them to images posted by the Taliban and their followers, the France 24 Observers team found that most of the Taliban’s videos were produced with commercially available scopes that were popular with civilian hunters.

According to our survey, the majority of the heat or night vision videos that the Taliban publish come from scopes made by a handful of companies based in China (Longot), the United States (ATN) and Lithuania (Pulsar).

In the past six months, for example, Taliban supporters have released at least three videos showing attacks on Afghan soldiers with thermal range from Pulsar, a brand manufactured by Lithuania’s based Yukon Advanced Optics Worldwide.

The company acknowledged the similarities between the Taliban images and those produced by their products, but said the devices could be copied “made by a third-party manufacturer”.

The company stated that its products are for civilian use only: “We have a strict policy that we do not develop solutions for the military industry or provide them for military purposes, nor do our products meet military standards. Our customers do not have a permit to export our products without our consent and without obtaining special export licenses from the authorities in their countries, the company says. ATN and Longot did not respond to our requests for comment.