ISIL’s home-made drones pose ‘valid potential threat’ to U.S. forces

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Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’s (ISIL’s) fleet of improvised drones may not have anywhere close to the power or precision of American drones but they pose a “valid potential threat,” a U.S. official said.

ISIL uses drones on a regular basis to recon potential attacks and glean sensitive tactical information, the official told the Military Times. “Improvised drones are homemade with cheap parts that can be assembled in homes or other areas.”

Iraqi Sgt. Hussain Musa Kathum displays an ISIS drone he shot down in Anbar province. /Iraqi Ministry of Defense
Iraqi Sgt. Hussain Musa Kathum displays an ISIS drone he said he shot down in Anbar province. /Iraqi Ministry of Defense

Observers say drones may have been employed by ISIL to gain information on Firebase Bell, a secret U.S. artillery outpost outside of Makhmur, Iraq. On March 19, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed, and eight others were wounded, when an ISIL Katyusha rocket struck Firebase Bell.

Two weeks later, an American drone strike killed Jasim Khadijah, an ISIL rocket expert responsible for Cardin’s death, a coalition spokesman said. Five other ISIL jihadists were killed in addition to the destruction of two vehicles — and an “improvised” enemy drone, the official said.

The Iraqi Ministry of Defense released a photo on showing what it said was Sgt. Hussain Musa Kathum displaying a damaged DJI Phantom 3 quadrotor that he claimed to have shot down on April 3 in the Al-Jirashi area in northern Anbar province. “The plane was trying to spy on our army by taking pictures of the area,” the ministry said in a Facebook post.

The improvised drone destroyed April 3 may indicate a deeper threat as ISIS seeks to expand their capabilities, said Rebecca Grant, president of IRIS Independent Research in Washington, D.C.

“Some of the bad guys are fiddling around, trying to improve the performance,” she said. “It may be a very basic, ‘actually take off’ kind of improvement, but it says that there is some level of active work in the drone area. It’s probably not super-sophisticated yet, but they’re working on them.”

“We’ve known for a while that we’re not going to be the only folks with UAVs for surveillance on the battlefield,” Grant said. “So here we are.”

The U.S.-led coalition first destroyed an ISIL drone on March 17, 2015.

“It was a commercially available, remotely piloted aircraft, really something anyone can get,” Army Col. Steve Warren said at the time. “We observed it flying for approximately 20 minutes. We observed it land. We observed the enemy place it in the trunk of a car and we struck the car.”

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