Shared from the 2/2/2017 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

IS turns to drones, with lethal effect

Even as its fighters come under pressure in Iraq, the Islamic State makes ample use of technology.

MOSUL, Iraq — First the tiny drones buzz overhead to observe Iraqi soldiers. Then, the Islamic State’s flying machines return to drop asmall explosive device to sow panic among security forces — or deadlier still, to help guide a suicide car bomber to a target.

And the innovations are expected to keep coming since IS has been spending freely on technology, even as its fighters face intense pressure from coalition forces, according to Iraqi military officials.

The extremist group is hacking store-bought drones, using rigorous testing protocols and innovating tactics that mimic those used by U.S. unmanned aircraft to adapt to diminishing numbers of fighters and a battlefield that is increasingly difficult to navigate on the ground.

The AP visited a warehouse this week in the Shura neighborhood, the largest drone workshop uncovered so far, and saw accounting spreadsheets with purchases totaling thousands of dollars a month for drone equipment. One receipt dated just a few months before the Mosul operation began recorded the purchase of wires, silicon, electrical plugs, cables, rotors, and GoPro cameras. Other receipts logged in spreadsheets included food delivery orders of fried chicken, taxi fares, and repair costs to the house’s water heater.

Scattered among the stacks of paper were bits and pieces of the drones themselves. Most were destroyed by IS fighters as they retreated, Iraqi officers at the factory said. But pieces of plastic-foam wings, fins and radio transmitters remained, piled up in the corners.

All the accounts were headed “board of development and military manufacturing,” some sub-headed “air observation division.” Handwritten notes instructed IS drone operators to write daily “mission reports” and monthly reports “about the challenges and difficulties you face as well.” In all, a half-dozen of the storehouses to make and modify the drones have been found recently in Mosul.

A cache of documents also obtained this month in a smaller makeshift factory by a researcher in Mosul indicates that the group is testing small drones, which are normally used as playthings, with deadly intent.

The researcher, Vera Mironova, is a labor economist by training and said her discovery of the drone paperwork is a sign of what is essentially a program to let machines make up for a shortage in manpower.

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