In a possible first-of-its-kind attack on Western forces, the Islamic State used a drone loaded with explosives to strike a Kurdish and French position in northern Iraq earlier this month, according to a report in the French newspaper Le Monde.
The Oct. 2 strike outside Irbil killed two Kurdish peshmerga fighters and wounded two French Special Operations troops, according to the report. One of the soldiers is critically injured. It is unclear what type of drone the militants used and if it dropped its munitions on the troops or was rammed into their position before exploding.
Drone use by militants and insurgent groups has steadily risen years as cheap off-the-shelf models have become easily acquired and simple to fly. In Ukraine, store-bought quadcopter drones are used on the front lines in the country’s east by both government troops and Russian-backed separatists in primarily a reconnaissance role, helping locate trench lines and spot for artillery.
In Iraq and Syria, a host of insurgent and opposition groups have used the drones in similar roles, though there have been a few instances of the remotely piloted craft being used to drop what appear to be explosives. Insurgent groups, including the Islamic State, also use the vehicles to film propaganda videos.
The apparent Oct. 2 attack raises questions about how conspicuous Western troops look when embedded alongside their local counterparts and if the Islamic State drone was specifically searching for them. Certain types of uniforms, weapons and vehicles are often giveaways for Special Operation troops despite their propensity to try to blend in with facial hair and similar looking camouflage patterns on their equipment. It is unclear if those Western forces will take more steps to blend in or will acquire more robust counter-drone measures if drone attacks continue.
U.S. forces in Iraq have in the past been spotted with special equipment to defeat drones, though it is unclear how many countries have adopted them.
A tweet posted in July shows what appears to be a Battelle DroneDefender anti-drone rifle in a tent near an American fire base in northern Iraq. According to the manufacturer’s website, the rifle is “non-kinetic,” meaning it does not use bullets, instead using certain frequencies to disrupt the signal between the drone and its remote.
Counter-drone technology is quickly becoming imperative for militaries and police departments worldwide as the small hard-to-hit aircraft are now consistently violating restricted areas — from the lawn of the White House to nuclear power plants.
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