An ISIS drone brought down by Iraqi forces in Mosul. Photo: Rudaw video
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – As ISIS’ battle tactics have evolved, so too has the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) ability to confront and defeat the enemy on the battlefield. With coalition training, support, and advice, the effectiveness of ISIS’ tactics have been measurably reduced and the Iraqis have made “impressive” progress, said US Army Col. Brett Sylvia, Task Force Strike Commander in Iraq.
The most recent tactic developed by ISIS is the use of armed drones
– dropping grenade-sized explosives from off-the-shelf commercial drones.
Inside Mosul, Sylvia said, ISIS has been using the smaller drones to drop munitions on the ISF that are “enough to do what Daesh [ISIS] does – indiscriminate killing.”
They have resulted in civilian casualties and equipment damage. Sylvia declined to speak to casualties within the ISF from these munitions. But, he noted, his Task Force working together with the Iraqi forces are bringing the drones down and ISIS’ use of the drones has dropped. They have brought down at least a dozen, Sylvia noted.
The drones have not been used to deliver chemical weapons as of yet, Sylvia noted in a press briefing on Wednesday.
ISIS’ use of another preferred tactic has also declined as the Iraqi forces have learned how to combat the vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs).
In the beginning of the Mosul offensive, VBIEDs were the weapon of choice of ISIS, with drastic consequences for the Iraqi forces. ISIS was sending on average 10 VBIEDs a day and half of them resulted in some type of casualty, whether it was to personnel or equipment, Sylvia detailed, also noting the toll of the psychological impact of large explosions going off close to soldiers.
Their effectiveness, however, has been drastically reduced using a range of tactics from rudimentary methods like road spikes to stop or slow the advance of VBIEDs, to “terrain denial” through cratering roads so the vehicles have to slow down or stop, to increasing the number of anti-tank munitions the ISF has. All of this has allowed the ISF to engage the VBIEDs much more quickly.
Now, ISIS is sending only one or two VBIEDs a day and they are much more crude in their design, meaning that, in recent weeks, just 1 in 6 has resulted in casualties, a drop from 50% that Sylvia described as a “significant win.”
Sylvia hailed the ISF’s “great transformation” and improved abilities as they gain skill, confidence, and trust in their own capabilities. The rapid gains seen since the relaunch of the offensive on December 29 has been a direct result of all ISF branches working together and the development of refined plan, he said.
Noting that ISIS is essentially defeated in eastern Mosul where the ISF is in control of 70 – 80 percent of the territory and ISIS has lost the will to fight, Sylvia said a lot remains to be done in western Mosul. But he has confidence in the Iraqi forces who improving every day.
The Iraqis do the ground maneuvers and we support them, said Sylvia. “We work as one team.”