Iraqi forces bat­tle bombs with drones

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SALAHIYAH: On the Mo­sul front lines, Iraqi forces have found a new tool to counter the Is­lamic State group’s sui­cide car bombs: Small com­mer­cial drones. “It’s a car bomb!” Mo­hammed Salih alerted his forces af­ter check­ing the live feed from a drone his men were fly­ing over the area, on the Mo­sul bat­tle’s south­ern front.

A few sec­onds later, a large plume of smoke rose up where an at­tack he­li­copter had fired two rock­ets and taken out the ex­plo­sives-laden ve­hi­cle that was head­ing straight for his men. The dust had not yet set­tled when an­other threat ma­te­ri­al­ized on the drone’s mon­i­tor. “There are four Daesh (IS) mem­bers on your right-hand side. They are not friendlies, re­peat, not friendlies,” Salih said.

Men of the Iraqi army’s 15th di­vi­sion were ad­vanc­ing through Salahiyah vil­lage, on the edge of Ha­mam Al-Alil, one of the main tar­gets on the vast south­ern front. The drone flew over en­emy lines and landed back on the roof of the vil­lage school, which sits atop a hill over­look­ing the plain and has been turned into a tem­po­rary com­mand cen­tre. “This drone al­lows us to re­con­noitre the area, spot the en­emy’s move­ments and di­rect our sol­diers more ef­fi­ciently to­wards their tar­gets so we can de­stroy them,” Salih said.

The toy-like de­vice is barely wider than a foot and is avail­able in shops or on­line for around $600, or less than the lat­est iPhone. It has a cam­era, four ro­tors and is guided with a joy­stick con­nected to a tablet that feeds images that can be shot from an al­ti­tude of more than 150 me­ters. IS fight­ers use snipers and mor­tars when Iraqi forces ap­proach their po­si­tions, but when both sides en­gage on the ground, the ji­hadists’ weapon of choice is the sui­cide car bomb.

‘Not real men’

They have un­leashed dozens of them ev­ery week since the start of the of­fen­sive against Mo­sul on Oc­to­ber 17, in­flict­ing ca­su­al­ties on Iraqi forces al­though the au­thor­i­ties have not pro­vided any fig­ures. “Some of them fight and die but oth­ers run away-th­ese are not real men,” Ali, a 25-yearold fighter from the di­vi­sion’s com­mando unit, said. He thumbed bul­lets into six mag­a­zines for his M-16 as­sault ri­fle. “I’m de­ter­mined to use all of them and I have more in stock,” he said with a grin. Ali’s mood changed when he pulled up a pic­ture of a smil­ing young man on his mo­bile phone. “He was my friend. The day be­fore yes­ter­day, they blew up his Humvee with a guided mis­sile. He burned to death in­side the ve­hi­cle,” he said.

The 15th di­vi­sion moved to­wards Ha­mam Al-Ali, de­spite in­ten­si­fy­ing fire from IS and the seem­ingly end­less det­o­na­tions of road­side bombs. He­li­copters fly­ing over­head fired mis­siles at IS po­si­tions dozens of times to open the way for army con­voys. The first wounded sol­dier was brought in with a hole in each thigh from the same bul­let, his own blood run­ning down his ri­fle bar­rel. The drone’s lat­est in­for­ma­tion was in­con­clu­sive: were the men spot­ted about 600 me­ters from the vil­lage mosque IS mil­i­tants or his own fight­ers? “We need to check this out,” Salih said, walk­ing over to the site with his red beret but no pro­tec­tive gear. His left el­bow still had pins stick­ing out of it, fol­low­ing a wound sus­tained dur­ing a pre­vi­ous bat­tle.

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