Aerial attacks: ISIS uses coalition tactics – albeit on a smaller scale 

Tim Bradshaw (Financial Times) reports that ISIS has been using low-cost “quadcopters”, assembled using kits instead of buying ‘off-the-shelf’, to drop improvised bombs in Syria and Iraq.

US military officials have become increasingly concerned about ISIS’ use of drones such as the Phantom, designed for consumer photographers and controlled using a smartphone or remote control, costing a few hundred dollars.

After using them for surveillance, ISIS started dropping grenades and improvised explosives on Iraqi forces in Mosul and nearby areas. A unit called “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen” was  formed in January and released video footage of the attacks on its websites.

The manufacturers allow customers to override or “unlock” some restricted areas, which its website states are “advisory only”. Shenzhen’s DJI, one of several manufacturers whose devices have been used by ISIS, has created new “no fly zones” for its products across Iraq and Syria. It has updated its ‘geofencing’ system, normally used to prevent its customers from flying their drones in restricted areas such as airports, prisons and power plants. These new no-fly zones in the Middle East were introduced to its mobile app in February.

MIT Technology Review (founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899) says that it’s not clear how constructive the move will be.

As described above, the no-fly zones can still be circumvented by tweaking a drone’s software and by building aircraft from scratch, using component parts and rudimentary airframes.

The review also points out that the modifications could affect operations by Iraq’s military, which has started to use modified consumer drones to attack ISIS in recent months.





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‘Friendly fire’ in northern Syria killed 18 allied fighters

This photo from the Kurdish-run Hawar News Agency shows fighters from the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces at a funeral procession in Tal Abyad, Syria, on April 13, 2017, for 18 comrades who were killed by a misdirected airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition. (Hawar News Agency via AP)  

Two days ago, in the Los Angeles Times, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Contact Reporter, recorded news issued by the U.S. Central Command – that a misdirected airstrike this week killed 18 friendly fighters who were fighting Islamic State alongside the international coalition in northern Syria. Coalition aircraft were given the wrong coordinates by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces for a strike intended to target militants south of their stronghold in Tabqa.

It is not clear how many friendly fire strikes there have been since the campaign began against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014.The coalition releases monthly reports of civilian casualties from airstrikes, both those confirmed and under investigation. But friendly fire strikes are tracked internally.

The London-based monitoring group Airwars, which works with the coalition to track airstrike casualties, has found 37 reported friendly fire strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Four have been confirmed by the coalition, including the one in Tabqa, according to Airwars director Chris Wood. The others are:

  • A strike on Dec. 18, 2015, in Fallujah that killed at least nine Iraqi soldiers and injured 32 more.
  • A strike on Sept. 17, 2016, in Al Tharda, Syria that killed at least 15 friendly Syrian forces.
  • A strike on Oct. 5, 2016, south of Mosul that killed 18 friendly Sunni tribal fighters.

“It’s very difficult to know how many more friendly fire events there have been since the coalition does not disclose this information,” Woods said, adding that it’s difficult to track total casualties from the strikes, and their estimates vary widely.

U.S. Army Col. Joe Scrocca, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, said he was “not aware of those incidents; we do not keep cumulative data on them, so I cannot readily verify their validity.”

More have been reported in Iraq, where there have been 224 to 419 suspected friendly fire casualties from coalition strikes, than in Syria, where there have been 35 to 86, Woods said. 


Airwars site adds: latest Coalition report: April 13th – April 14th 2017: 14 new airstrikes

Information updated till December 2016






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Armed drones: how remote-controlled, high-tech weapons are used against the poor

In 2011 David Hookes explored the ethical and legal implications of the growing use of armed, unmanned planes in the ‘war against terrorism’.

The rapidly increasing use of aerial robot weapons in the so-called ‘war against terrorism’ is raising many ethical and legal questions. Drones, known in military-speak as ‘UAVs’ or ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ come in a range of sizes, from very small surveillance aircraft, which can be carried in a soldier’s rucksack and used to gather battlefield intelligence, to full-scale, armed versions that can carry a sizable payload of missiles and laser-guided bombs.

The use of the latter type of UAV in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere has aroused great concern, since it often entails considerable ‘collateral damage’ – in other words, the killing of innocent civilians in the vicinity of the targeted ‘terrorist’ leaders. The legality of their use in carrying out what are effectively extra-judicial executions, outside any recognisable battlefield, is also a raising serious concern.

Read the article here:




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Why would disclosing reasons for rebranding armed drones have a chilling effect?

In 2016, defence secretary Michael Fallon announced a £100m development deal with US arms manufacturer General Atomics under which the UK fleet of armed drones will double.

The new acquisitions will be variants of the Reaper, an advanced version of the Predator but the MoD has decided to rename these new drones, the Protector, a far more humane name than ‘Scavenger’, ‘Predator’ or ‘Reaper’. They are expected to be ready for service in 2021 – test flight below.

The MoD refers to the armed drones flying above soldiers on patrol to support them rather than tracking down and executing enemies – but a Jane’s article described them as being capable of carrying multiple-mission payloads, including Brimstone missiles.

In December Private Eye’s researcher made a Freedom of Information request in order to learn more about this renaming exercise from the MoD.

After a three month delay the request was refused on several grounds, which included:

  • revealing the information would be counter to the public interest
  • Disclosure of media handling might have a ‘chilling effect’ on future discussions pf a similar nature

The military and the drone industry have long tried to improve the image of killer machines and break the connection in the public’s mind between drones and targeted killing, by calling them ‘Remotely Piloted Air Systems’ and ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’. Perhaps it will soon also rename the Brimstone and Hellfire missiles.




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Legacy: “Obama scattered his drones and special forces throughout the Muslim world”

In January, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that President Obama embraced the US drone programme, overseeing more strikes in his first year than Bush carried out during his entire presidency.

A total of 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama’s two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush.

The White House released long-awaited figures in July on the number of people killed in drone strikes between January 2009 and the end of 2015, which insiders said was a direct response to pressure from the Bureau and other organisations that collect data. However the US’s estimate of the number of civilians killed – between 64 and 116 – contrasted strongly with the number recorded by the Bureau, which at 380 to 801 was six times higher.

That figure does not include deaths in active battlefields including Afghanistan. Since the end of 2014, the country has since come under frequent US bombardment, in an unreported war that saw 1,337 weapons dropped last year alone – a 40% rise on 2015. Afghan civilian casualties have been high, with the United Nations (UN) reporting at least 85 deaths in 2016. The Bureau recorded 65 to 105 civilian deaths during this period. We did not start collecting data on Afghanistan until 2015.

In February, the Military Times, published by Sightline Media Group and described as an independent source for news and information for Service Members and their families, alleged that the American military has failed to publicly disclose potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes conducted over several years in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures documenting everything from costs to casualty counts.

Andrew de Grandpre, Pentagon bureau chief, and Shawn Snow, reported that in 2016 alone, U.S. combat aircraft conducted at least 456 airstrikes in Afghanistan that were not recorded as part of an open-source database maintained by the U.S. Air Force. Those airstrikes were carried out by attack helicopters and armed drones operated by the U.S. Army.

U.S. Central Command indicated it is unable to determine how far back the Army’s numbers have been excluded from these airpower summaries. Officials there would not address several detailed questions submitted by Military Times, and they were unable to provide a full listing of annual airstrikes conducted by each of the Defense Department’s four military services.

In an otherwise lenient article about Obama, Simon Jenkins said that – in thrall to military advisers and lobbyists – Obama scattered his drones and special forces throughout the Muslim world, as counter-productive to peace as they ever were.




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Another airstrike killing Yemeni civilians

Yesterday the Times reported that a Saudi warplanes near Yemen’s rebel-held capital struck and killed several people on Wednesday, according to medical officials. These included a group of ten women attending the funeral in Arhab, 25 miles from Sanaa, according to a spokesman for the Houthi rebel group.


Eight women and a child were amongst those killed in the airstrike officials claim. The double strike then also hit emergency workers at the scene. Footage allegedly taken at the scene showed civilians and medics struggling to claw women and children out from underneath rubble and earth.

A coalition spokesman was unavailable for comment.

Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen since March 2015 in order to reinstate Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, the Yemeni president, ousted by the Houthis, a Shia rebel group backed by Saudi Arabia’s long-term foe Iran.

More than 7,400 people have been killed in the two-year conflict and hospitals, schools, weddings, homes and funerals have been bombed.

Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president who is accused by the Saudis of arming the Houthis, called for a truce in Yemen yesterday during his first visit to the Gulf since he took office in 2013. Mr Rouhani, regarded as progressive, made the comments during a fleeting visit to Oman and Kuwait, two states working to bridge the diplomatic divide between Arab countries and Tehran.

His comments echoed calls by the new UN chief António Guterres, who vowed to restart Yemen’s peace talks in a statement this week.





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President Trump, his predecessors and all ‘complicit by their silence’ are to blame for this insanity

paul-goslingPaul Gosling retweeted NYT’s report of Yemen’s anger at  the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump (covered on this site here): Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.

The NYT reminds readers that the United States conducted 38 drone strikes in Yemen last year, up from 23 in 2014, and has already carried out five strikes this year – according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal, which focusses on the ‘war on terror’.

In response to the raid, Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen urged followers to attack the United States and its allies in the country. Specialists in Yemeni culture and politics have cautioned that Al Qaeda would seize on the raid to whip up anti-American feelings and attract more followers.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (header below) said in a report released last Thursday: “The use of U.S. soldiers, high civilian casualties and disregard for local tribal and political dynamics plays into AQAP’s narrative of defending Muslims against the West and could increase anti-U.S. sentiment and with it AQAP’s pool of recruits.”


David Godinez,  Kansas City, MO commented 10 hours ago: “There is a chain of failure, tragedy and mistakes that have occurred in our special operations and drone attacks in Yemen that now go back through the last three Presidents.

Paul McBride,  Ellensburg WA 12 hours ago, asked:

“Why can’t we instead use this story as an opportunity to re-examine America’s grotesque “Long War” on terrorism itself? Has a day gone by since we invaded Afghanistan over 15 years ago that at least one person on this planet has not died at the hands of the American military or intelligence services? Are we proud of that? Has the blood debt of 9/11 not been repaid a hundred-fold?

“We allow the Pentagon and CIA to conduct raids, drop bombs, and use drones without the slightest curiosity at to what we are accomplishing, other than, manifestly, alienating the good will of a quarter of the globe’s population. This latest raid in Yemen has generated no meaningful investigation by any mainstream media outlet, no attempt to interview the villagers affected, or to get the facts beyond the propaganda published by the Pentagon in its press releases . . .

“President Trump seems no more willing than his predecessors to halt this insanity, but the American people are complicit by their silence and acquiescence”.





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