In a new threat to the West, the Islamic State on Tuesday debuted on social media a commercially available drone dropping small bombs with pinpoint accuracy onto Iraqi targets in and around Mosul.
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.
The attacks were depicted in a lengthy Islamic State propaganda video showing its terrorists in intense street battles to hold the city of Mosul. Included is aerial footage of a Chinese Skywalker X8 drone, which is available online for about $180, striking clusters of Iraqi soldiers, tanks and buildings.
The video shows that the Islamic State can assemble, arm, launch and guide drones, and find specific targets. The explosions appear relatively small but deadly. Remote pilots were able to hit a tank turret and the dead center of a troop concentration.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said the drone video shows that the Islamic State has made a progression in delivering improvised explosive devices. The militants have gone from buried IEDs to vehicle-borne IEDS to airborne IEDS.
“In the end the IEDs are the terrorist’s artillery,” Mr. Hunter told The Washington Times. “This is not rocket science. This is a natural progression for IEDs. This isn’t crazy stuff that this is happening now. We should have seen this coming.
“Lets call it an ‘AIED,’ an airborne IED. Boom. I just made that up,” said the former Marine Corps officer.
Asked if the Islamic State could attack a U.S. city with multiple drones, Mr. Hunter said, “Of course.”
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, has been flying small commercially available drones for reconnaissance and propaganda video footage. Scattered reports say the terrorists have dropped grenades from drones.
Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, which captured the drone footage from an Islamic State internet channel, said this appears to be the first offensive drone able to carry bombs, albeit small ones.
If so, it further complicates the counterterrorism mission of protecting the public against the Islamic State’s ongoing campaign to attack civilian targets in the Middle East, Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.
“Scary,” Mr. Stalinsky said. “I’m surprised there hasn’t been any attack in the West yet with drones. I guess there are technologies now and in production to deal with them the best possible way.”
Mr. Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, recently asked the Army to update him on what it is doing to defeat terrorist unmanned aerial vehicles. After a classified briefing on Tuesday, he said he is confident that the military in Iraq has deployed defenses that will defeat Islamic State drones.
Then-Army Secretary Eric K. Fanning wrote Mr. Hunter on Jan. 18, noting that the jihadi drone threat is increasing.
“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,” Mr. Fanning said.
He said the Army was testing more than 20 government and industry systems “designed to detect, identify and electronically defeat” enemy drones.
Air Force Col. John Dorrian, chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told The Times: “I am aware that ISIL has used commercial-off-the-shelf UAVs to drop small explosive weapons. 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.”
Mr. Stalinsky, whose group monitors and analyzes jihadi communication traffic, said the Islamic State’s use of drones will continue to grow.
“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. “All jihadi groups are using drones and studying how they work and how to avoid them. They are easily obtainable online, then can be modified. We have seen many drones used by ISIS that can be bought on Amazon.”
MEMRI issued a report Tuesday with the headline, “ISIS Video Shows Drones Dropping Bombs on Iraqi Soldiers, Documents Martyrdom Operations Carried Out by Fighters Including Teenagers, Doctors, Foreigners.”
The scenes are chilling. Young terrorists gather to select the next suicide bomber by random drawing. They then congratulate the winner, who mounts a reinforced IED-borne vehicle. A surveillance drone then follows the vehicle as it drives the streets of Mosul, finds a target and explodes.
One fighter says before his death, “My message to my brothers who are stationed in the front lines: Remain steadfast and resolute; Allah is with you. Present your severed limbs, bodies and blood, and sacrifice them to Allah. Do not be weakened; do not grieve, as you are superior.”
Two suicide bombers were identified as doctors.
Minutes after the Islamic State posted its video, its supporters and members took to social media to celebrate its drone skills in battle.
“The scientific technology and practical development demonstrated in the ranks of the Islamic State’s military cadres on a technical level will cause the offensive forces to stumble,” said a message on the secure messaging app Telegram, a favorite of jihadis. “The fact that there are drones with loads of explosives is in itself a source of anxiety and fear towards the opposite forces.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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