Much has been written about the threat of Islamic State militants’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly known as drones, over the embattled city of Mosul.
IS were quick to weaponise UAVs with small improvised explosive devices (IEDs). On 24 January they released a video showing up to 19 different aerial attacks by commercially purchased UAVs – the kind of drone you can buy in any shopping centre in the UK or abroad. Iraqi forces have followed suit by attaching modified 40mm grenades with shuttlecock stabilisers onto their larger UAVs to drop on IS positions. A crude inaccurate way of killing terrorists, its effectiveness is questionable.
Weaponised IS UAVs have mainly been used to target Iraqi military commanders and troops congregating in the open near the front line. It’s a low-end, low-altitude attack that can be thwarted by keeping in hard cover. But both sides use the UAV’s more effectively as a means of providing Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, known as ISR. Islamic State UAVs in the air, once identified, are the warning that something is about to happen – either mortar fire, which is typically one hastily fired inaccurate round – before coalition air superiority can locate and target the firing point. Or, more devastatingly, the launching of a Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, an SVBIED. Since the Battle for Mosul officially started on 16 October 2016, hundreds of SVBIEDs have been launched.