Fri, Oct 14, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Drone attack on Kurdish, French forces in Iraq reveals new improvised threats

AP, WASHINGTON

French and Kurdish forces in northern Iraq were attacked by an exploding drone, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, adding a new worry to the wars in Iraq and Syria as militant groups learn to weaponize their store-bought drones.

US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, the spokesman for the US-led military coalition in Iraq, said an improvised device on a drone exploded after it was taken back to a camp near the Iraqi city of Irbil.

He called it a “Trojan Horse-style attack.”

Two Kurds were killed in that incident on Oct. 2, according to a US official, who said the drone looked like a Styrofoam model plane that was taped together in a very rudimentary style.

The official said it appeared to be carrying a C-4 charge and batteries, and might have had a timer.

That official was not authorized to discuss the incident publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll on Wednesday said that two French special forces were seriously injured in the explosion.

The US has seen militants use a variety of improvised drones and modified drones, Dorrian said, adding that “there’s nothing very high tech about them.”

“They can just buy them as anybody else would,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “Some of those are available on Amazon.”

A recently released video belonging to an al-Qaeda offshoot, Jund al-Aqsa, purportedly shows a drone landing on Syrian military barracks.

In another video, small explosives purportedly dropped by the Iran-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah target the Sunni militant group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, near Aleppo.

The technology is not new, but the videos are the first known demonstration of these capabilities by any militant groups. While militants with drones are not a significant military threat, Dorrian said the US and its partner countries are taking it seriously.

Chris Woods, the head of the Airwars project, which tracks the international air war in Iraq, Syria and Libya, said: “There are a million ways you can weaponize drones — fire rockets, strap things in and crash them.”

“This is the stuff everyone has been terrified about for years, and now it’s a reality,” he said.

The US military official could not immediately authenticate the videos in question.

However, another former senior US military official who viewed the videos said there was nothing to suggest they were fake.

A number of militant groups in the Middle East, including the Islamic State group, Jund al-Aqsa and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas, have all released videos indicating that they have surveillance and reconnaissance drones.

Syrian anti-government rebels and militias loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were also flying cheap quadcopters and hexacopters as early as 2014 to spy on one another. The surveillance drones allowed those groups to collect data on enemy bases, battlefield positioning and weaponry, and to improve targeting.

Lebanon-based Hezbollah has claimed to have armed-drone capabilities for nearly two years, but a recent video of bomblets hitting a militant camp near the Syrian town of Hama is the first known documentation.

“It is not going to change the overall balance of power in the region, but it matters by the very fact that these are things that are normally beyond the capability of insurgents or terrorists groups,” said Peter Singer, author of the book Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

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