Atlas Obscura - Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations

The Giant Blimp Hovering Over Kabul

Tethered to a NATO base in Kabul is an American blimp used to survey Afghanistan's largest city. 


The American military has been rapidly shifting its efforts towards surveillance technology - so much so that nowadays, more footage is taken from American surveillance cameras in ten minutes than is uploaded to YouTube in an entire week.

One place this increase in surveillance exists is hovering thousands of feet above Kabul, Afghanistan’s largest city. Imagine a giant floating eye 117 feet long and equipped with infrared and color eyesight. An eye which can watch over an entire city’s civilians 24 hours every day without sleeping or even blinking. 

This is Kabul’s giant blimp. Floating high in the Kabul skies, not disguised or hidden in any way, is a huge white blimp. Nicknamed “the dirigible,” this blimp belongs to the Americans, and it is tethered to the NATO Headquarters in Kabul. An average Kabul resident will see it every time he looks up, no matter what time. It’s always there, in plain sight for millions of people to see.

There have been several positive effects that have come from the implementation of the blimp. For instance, on one occasion, the US military used the blimp’s cameras to find a car that was being packed with explosives, and fortunately, they were able to diffuse it in time.

That said, many residents live in a state of fear. Mohammadullah, a resident of Kabul, was quoted in the New York Times saying “whenever we want to say ‘hi’ to our wife when we sleep on rooftops, we feel someone is watching us.” When the blimps are brought down due to bad weather, the military often finds hundreds of bulletholes in them, showing that the presence of the blimp is a cause of real resentment in the area. Some US Army leaders have even gone as far as saying that the blimps are ineffective at protecting American lives.

The blimp did leave the skies for a short while. In October of 2015, a British military helicopter accidentally collided with one of the blimp’s tethers and crashed, killing five people, including two US soldiers. The blimp became deflated, and it couldn’t be used again.

However that wasn’t enough to keep the zeppelin out of the skies. In January 2016, Truthout reported that a new blimp was up there, watching the city streets of Kabul just as it had in the past - business as usual. The blimp’s surveillance capabilities are classified.