Islamic State fighters in Mosul are using drones to drop small bombs onto Iraqi security forces and civilians, said a U.S. Army commander in Iraq.
Col. Brett Sylvia leads roughly 1,700 soldiers who make up Task Force Strike, which is advising Iraqi troops and other security forces who have been fighting to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group since early November.
As Iraqi security forces have moved into Mosul, they have been attacked by commercially purchased drones dropping small munitions “akin to a small, little grenade,” said Sylvia, who is also commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
ISIS has been using drones for a while, but as Iraqi forces moved closer to Mosul, they began encountering enemy drones more frequently, Sylvia told reporters on Wednesday at a Pentagon news conference.
“Really, that’s when we saw them using them in armed fashion,” he said.
Sylvia stressed that the drones ISIS is using are not complex. ISIS has “the same ability that any 13-year-old kid in the States” has to purchase commercially available drones online, he said.
Right now, ISIS fighters in Mosul are using quadcopters that are no larger than a couple feet in diameter and can fly for about an hour, he said.
“It’s not as if it is a large, armed UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that is dropping munitions from the wings – but literally, a very small quadcopter that drops a small munition in a somewhat imprecise manner,” Sylvia said. “They are very short-range, targeting those front-line troops from the Iraqis.”
Without getting into specifics, Sylvia said U.S. troops have been able to “bring to bear some of our technical capabilities” to help the Iraqis shoot down nearly a dozen drones.
Iraqi federal police also recently captured an ISIS drone launch and recovery site, he said. ISIS fighters abandoned many parts for the drones as they retreated.
Their effectiveness, and the quantity of drones available to them, has certainly decreased, Sylvia said, as the drones have been "shot out of the sky" or as these areas have been taken over.
No U.S. troops have been killed or wounded by the drones, said Sylvia, who deferred questions about whether the Iraqi security forces had suffered casualties to the Iraqi defense ministry.
He did say the drones have caused some equipment and structure damage, and some civilian casualties, because "certainly, they are not concerned about whether or not any of the civilians in Mosul are killed or wounded.”
Iraqi security forces have retaken most of eastern Mosul, but they face a tough fight in the western part of the city, where ISIS is dug in, Sylvia said.
“There has been an extensive defensive work that has been done in western Mosul,” he said. “They have certainly been working on that area and even, in some cases, have greater defenses built in western Mosul than they did in eastern Mosul.”