WASHINGTON — Iraq’s military has turned the tables on the Islamic State’s drone tactics by improvising its own unmanned aircraft to drop grenades and other small munitions on the militants in the key battle for Mosul, U.S. officials say.
The development comes as the threat from Islamic State drones has been effectively neutralized with the help of U.S. and coalition forces, which rushed counter-drone technology to the battle for the city.
Earlier this year Mosul became a proving ground for the emerging threat of cheap drones used by terror groups. The militants were using the small unmanned aircraft for both attacks and surveillance.
At the peak in February, the Islamic State deployed 10 to 15 drones a day against Iraqi security forces as they fought to clear militants from Mosul, said Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a military spokesman in Baghdad.
The number of militant drones is now down to about one or two a day, principally for surveillance, he said. During the past two weeks there have been no recorded incidents of militants using an armed drone in Iraq or Syria, according to coalition military statistics.
The militants’ use of drones in Mosul highlighted the danger commercial drones have in the hands of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“They’ve actually gone to almost swarm-level capability in a couple of cases,” Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, commander of the Combined Arms Center, said last month. The Army has been studying the militants' use of drones in Mosul to counter the threat in the future.
“It’s a serious concern,” said Seth Jones, a counterterrorism expert at RAND Corp. “A range of terror organizations are able to buy off-the-shelf drones and use them against the United States and its allies.”
Jones said terror groups are likely looking for ways to put larger munitions on the drones. In Iraq and Syria, the militants mostly used small grenade-sized munitions or mortar shells on drones.