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Islamic State Tactics Degrading as Iraqis Take More of Mosul


FILE - Iraqi special forces Lt. General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, center, looks at a live video feed from a drone flying over Islamic State militant-held territory as they advance their position in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2016.

Islamic State (IS) fighters have placed bombs on trucks and even tiny, flying drones to attack Iraqi forces battling to retake Mosul. But these battlefield tactics are becoming less frequent and less effective, a top U.S. commander in Iraq said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters via teleconference from Baghdad, Col. Brett Sylvia, who leads roughly 1,700 of the U.S. soldiers advising Iraqis in the Mosul fight, said U.S. forces have helped Iraqis bring down “almost a dozen” IS-controlled drones used to gather intelligence and drop “little grenade”-like explosives on Iraqis.

“They are very short-range, targeting those frontline troops from the Iraqis,” he said, adding that the drones are often commercial “quadcopters” that can be purchased online.

The commander would not discuss any Iraqi Security Force (ISF) casualties caused by the devices, but said the drones have killed civilians and damaged ISF equipment in recent weeks.

However, Sylvia said the use of these drones has dropped off as Iraqis have taken more ground inside Mosul.

He added that Iraqi federal police officers recently captured what appears to be a drone launch and recovery site, with some drone parts left as IS fled the area.

FILE - Iraqi special forces Lt. Col. Ali Hussein holds a destroyed drone used by Islamic State militants, which was shot down by his brigade, in the Bakr front line neighborhood, in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 25, 2016.

FILE - Iraqi special forces Lt. Col. Ali Hussein holds a destroyed drone used by Islamic State militants, which was shot down by his brigade, in the Bakr front line neighborhood, in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 25, 2016.

Stopping vehicle bombs

In addition to the drones, U.S. forces also have helped target one of Islamic State’s primary weapon systems in Mosul: the vehicle-borne IED (VBIED), better known as a truck bomb.

“VBIEDs have a tremendous impact not only in terms of casualties, but they've got a great psychological impact when you've got an explosion of that size that goes off in proximity to soldiers,” Sylvia said. “And so really getting after the VBIED fight has been an important one for us.”

Sylvia said the rate of truck bombs’ effectiveness in Mosul has decreased from about 1 in 2 resulting in a casualty in November to between 1 in 6 and 1 in 9 truck bombs resulting in some sort of casualty in the last month.

He said U.S. troops have increased the number of the Iraqi force’s anti-tank munitions and have advised them in adding basic methods - from road spikes to stringing wire along the roads near troop operations - to slow down or stop the VBIEDs.

The IS truck bombs in Mosul have morphed from massive vehicles with steel protection plates used to ram Iraqi defenses to more crude and simple vehicles. These bring less capability to break barriers, but are more difficult to identify, Sylvia said.

In addition to a decrease in effectiveness, the commander said the quantity of IS truck bombs in Mosul also has decreased.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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