The U.S. military is alarmed that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq is using commercially available drones to drop small bombs with “pinpoint accuracy” in and around Mosul, the jihadist group’s last major stronghold in the country.
“I am aware that ISIL has used commercial-off-the-shelf UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] to drop small explosive weapons,” Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told the Washington Times. “This capability is dangerous and has propaganda value, but it will not change the fact that the enemy is being defeated in both Iraq and Syria.”
The new capability raises the specter that the Islamic State one day could attack urban areas from the air, not just on the ground. The U.S. military is alarmed by the terrorist army’s quick technological advances and is evaluating more than 20 systems to detect and destroy its drone air force. Other systems already have been rushed to the war.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon confirmed that ISIS is using small drones carrying grenade-like explosives in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. The drones have caused civilian and military casualties, the Pentagon revealed. A U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive is currently fighting to push ISIS out of Mosul.
In a January 18 letter, then-U.S. Army Secretary Eric K. Fanning reportedly wrote Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a U.S. Marine veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, that the jihadi drone threat is on the rise.
“These advances present our adversaries with opportunities to quickly adjust and improve their tactics, and the Army must remain adaptive and agile to respond to the evolving threat,” declared Fanning.
He revealed that the U.S. military is testing more than 20 government and industry systems “designed to detect, identify and electronically defeat” jihadi drones.
In a propaganda video disseminated on social media Tuesday, ISIS featured aerial footage of a Chinese Skywalker X8 drone that can be purchased on Amazon targeting clusters of Iraqi soldiers, tanks, and buildings. The video captured ISIS’ ability to assemble, arm, deploy, and guide drones to locate and strike specific targets.
Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which obtained the video from an ISIS Internet channel, described the small aircraft as “the first offensive drone able to carry bombs, albeit small ones.”
Echoing the former U.S. Army secretary, the MEMRI chief predicted that ISIS will expand its use of drones.
“They have been using drones for a few years, mainly for their films, but there has been a major increase in usage,” Mr. Stalinsky said, adding that drones “are easily obtainable online, then can be modified. We have seen many drones used by ISIS that can be bought on Amazon.”
ISIS has been employing the use of commercially available drones for reconnaissance and to capture footage for propaganda videos. The jihadist group has also reportedly used drones to drop grenades. The Iraqi military has confirmed, too, that ISIS has weaponized drones.
“Daesh [ISIS] uses drones for surveillance and sometimes it attaches explosives to them and uses to target commanders or headquarters,” Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saidi of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service told reporters in November at a military headquarters in a Mosul suburb.
Rep. Hunter told the Times that after a classified briefing on Tuesday, he is confident the U.S. military in Iraq is capable of defeating ISIS drones.