WASHINGTON — Syrian fighters with the Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia closely allied with Syrian Kurd fighters, have uncovered what appears to be an ISIS drone factory in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital.
Macer Gifford, the nom de guerre of a British fighter with the council, posted images to his Facebook and Twitter accounts of what appear to be downed U.S.-manufactured drones late Tuesday night. Scattered around the floor of the complex are fiberglass and plastic reproductions of the bodies of the drones, replicated by ISIS fighters.
However, according to officials at Operation Inherent Resolve, they have received no reports of ISIS drone factories and they contend no coalition drone has been shot down in the region.
“These have been shot down or crashed because of some tech issues,” Gifford says in a video posted to Twitter.
Images of the drones can be seen with bullet holes and extensive damage. A close up of one of the images shows a partial part number.
“They are very sophisticated … this is a serious piece of coalition equipment,” Gifford says, holding what appears to be a surveillance camera for one of the drones.
“There has been a clear attempt by ISIS to reverse engineer,” Gifford says, referring to the reproductions of the drone bodies.
Diagrams of the drones written in English were also found in the building, indicating the ISIS members attempting to replicate the drones may have been Westerners.
ISIS has used drones to attack fighters in Raqqa, but the threat was considered to be negligible, officials at OIR told Military Times back in June. Drones operated by the terror group have typically been commercially available quadcopter drones.
Military Times has not been able to verify that the photos are in fact coalition drones. The U.S. does operate drones that appear similar to the pictures in the video, such as the RQ-20 Puma — a battery-powered and hand-thrown drone used by Army Special Forces.
Officials at Operation Inherent Resolve would not confirm the types of ”tactical” drones they employ in Syria, citing operational security concerns.
However, Turkish security forces in January seized some RQ-20 Pumas from militants associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PPK, according to Hürriyet Daily News, an English newspaper in Turkey. The PKK is an internationally designated terrorist group that Turkey contends has ties with a U.S. partner force in Syria, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
There have been multiple reports of ISIS fighters in Raqqa shooting down and capturing RQ-20 Puma drones. Videos from ISIS’ propaganda hub, Amaq, have shown the captured drones.
If Kurdish militants are operating RQ-20 Puma drones in northern Syria and Raqqa, they weren’t supplied by the coalition, according to a spokesperson at OIR. ”The coalition provides their own aerial support in Syria and does not provide it as any aid package to the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces].”
YPG fighters with the SDF are known to operate surveillance drones in Raqqa.