WASHINGTON - Iraqi federal police are weaponizing commercial models of drones to attack Islamic State (IS) positions in western Mosul, Iraqi military sources told VOA.
“This is a new strategy in the struggle to liberate western Mosul from IS thugs,” said Faris Radhi, a commander of Iraqi Federal Police operations. “The federal police use these drones to attack IS terrorists inside neighborhoods and alleys of Mosul.”
Major General Raid Shakir Jawdat, the top commander of Iraqi Federal Police, told VOA that a group of military engineers from his division in Mosul modified the drones to carry up to six small grenades and tested them in southern Mosul before they were sent to a battlefield.
“The drones have become an effective weapon, taking IS by surprise,” Jawdat told VOA. “They conduct dozens of air operations against IS every day.”
WATCH: Iraqi Federal Police Use Drones in Western Mosul
The drones “destroyed three positions of the enemy, five car bombs, and killed 11 terrorists in al-Dawasah neighborhood,” Jawdat said.
Jawdat has posted a video on his Facebook page showing drones dropping three bombs against IS in western Mosul. VOA could not confirm the authenticity of the video.
The design of the Iraqi drone offensive comes from IS, which in January established a drone unit called “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen.” IS claimed its drones killed or wounded 39 Iraqi soldiers in a single week.
“A new source of horror for the apostates!” IS's official al-Naba newsletter declared.
To counter the IS drones, the U.S. special forces stationed near Mosul have reportedly set up interference machines that would jam IS signals or take down the drones.
“Their drones are not effective in the battlefield anymore,” Vera Mironova, an international security fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, told VOA.
Islamic State mission
Mironova is embedded with Iraqi troops in western Mosul. She recovered a batch of alleged IS documents in January outlining the IS drone mission.
“The coalition knows how to blow them up now,” she said. “Their radars were not able to locate them in the past because they could only detect metal and drones were made out of plastic. But they have learned how to catch plastic now.”
Mironova said it's likely Iraqi forces, too, will learn of the minimal success of weaponized drones. She said the commercial drones lack the precision and effectiveness that unmanned combat aerial vehicles have.
“I have a problem imagining how they will make them work,” she said. “It's physically very crowded in Mosul's air.”
Protecting civilians a priority
The Iraqi use of drones has raised concerns among humanitarian organizations, who fear drones could indiscriminately strike civilian homes.
“The concern is the same as with any other strikes — whether the targets are legit military targets or civilians, or whether the attacks are indiscriminate or disproportionate,” Donatella Rovera, an adviser to Amnesty International, said.
“We are certainly concerned about the plight of civilians in combat areas — their exposure to extreme risk from ongoing fighting and attacks and the deteriorating humanitarian conditions,” Rovera said.
Iraqi Federal Police commanders say the drones are aimed at targets that are confirmed to be IS positions by Iraqi forces' Nineveh Operations Command.
“These drones will play a major role in the struggle for west Mosul,” said Radhi, adding that the aim is “to avoid harming the civilians during combat against IS.”