Editor’s note: The footage below may be disturbing to some viewers.
Helmet-camera footage obtained by Vice News shows what appears to be an attack by the Islamic State in northern Iraq sometime in the last few months. Vice said the attack, against Kurdish peshmerga positions, occurred 30 miles north of Mosul, which is held by the extremist group.
It is unclear exactly where the assault occurred, though there is a sizable peshmerga garrison near the town of Bashiqa and the surrounding countryside.
The operation, as depicted in the video, appears to follow the Islamic State’s signature tactics: a suicide vehicle attack, followed by an infantry assault.
Notable is that the attack begins at sunset, a standard tactic of most semi-capable small fighting units. Impending darkness gives the attacking force breathing room if the assault fails, providing some form of cover for withdrawal.
The four-man unit (driver and three passengers) — the same size as a U.S. military fire team — appeared to be riding in a modified U.S. Humvee, given the armor configuration inside the vehicle. The unit’s setup is relatively ad hoc, and unlike some of the other vehicles accompanying it in the assault, the team’s open-top truck has no turret. Instead, a fighter who goes by Abu Hajaar is manning what appears to be a German-designed MG-3. The rapid-firing medium machine gun is based on the World War II-era German MG-42 and looks almost identical. Hajaar appears relatively inexperienced with the gun as he has difficulty buffeting against the recoil, but this would be difficult regardless of the skill of the operator because the truck is navigating unimproved terrain and Hajaar has no way to mount the gun except with his body weight against the cab of the truck.
It is remarkable how disorganized the small team is, given that the assault was probably planned. The back of the militants’ vehicle is littered with radios, small arms and what appears to be baby wipes and headphones. In the midst of the attack, the fighters have difficulty distinguishing between the types of rockets for their rocket-propelled grenade and where they have stored them. One of the fighters cannot tell apart a rocket for vehicles (armor-piercing) from one for people (high-explosive). This could mean that they were unprepared for the attack, relatively untrained, had little experience fighting together or all of the above.
At one point, the cameraman launches homemade rifle grenades from his Kalashnikov, many of which appear to have been built incorrectly as they don’t fit the the launcher.
As the assault progresses, one of the more heavily armored Islamic State vehicles that was providing cover for another Islamic State Humvee appears to have been destroyed, likely from an antitank missile. The peshmerga forces have been supplied with German MILAN antitank guided missiles and rely on them extensively to repel attacks such as the one depicted in the video above.
With little natural cover and under fire, the small group of fighters begins to withdraw, apparently using some sort of strange tactic that involves rolling away from incoming fire. Before the cameraman is shot, one fighter is rolling away from the Humvee. When the cameraman goes down, he tries to roll away, too.
The Islamic State has routinely released helmet-camera footage from its fighters when it provides propaganda value, though other videos have surfaced of the group’s fighters getting killed while wearing the cameras.
Updated to reflect when exactly the attack occurred. Vice says that the attack was March 2016 but others dispute that the attack was part of a larger offensive in Dec. 2015.