Bomb-Dropping Jihadist Drones Won’t Stay in Syria

WIB front September 4, 2016 War Is Boring 0

More evidence shows how easy it is to turn a quadcopter into a weapon by ROBERT BECKHUSEN A video released by a Syrian jihadist group...

More evidence shows how easy it is to turn a quadcopter into a weapon

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

A video released by a Syrian jihadist group in September appears to depict a quadcopter-style drone dropping bombs onto loyalist positions — all taken from the drone’s point of view.

The attacks took place just north of the regime-controlled city Hama, where rebel fighters have gained ground in recent days.

During the first attack, a bomb exploded next to a group of soldiers who ran for cover. The second landed close to a group huddled near three light vehicles. Those soldiers ran, too.

If the video is what it seems, it reveals a relatively uncommon — but not unprecedented — example of a terrorist group deploying weaponized drones.

In this case, the bombs were small and there’s no visible sign anyone was hurt or killed from above. But the drone’s stable hover was enough to make the munitions quite accurate. A few feet more and the first bomb could’ve hit a soldier on the head.

However, the attacks are indicative of Syria’s place as a proving ground of terrorist tactics that will likely have wider repercussions long after the war is over.

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And not just drones. Jihadist militants in Syria have their hands on anti-aircraft missiles, remote-controlled sniper rifles and sophisticated anti-tank guided weapons.

A quadcopter drone with an explosive charge is a crude weapon. But it’s low risk, cheap and anonymous. In 2015, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report warned that the ease of obtaining and operating low-cost drones “could be used by adversaries to leverage [unmanned aircraft systems] as part of an attack.”

It’s also important to describe which group made it.

Jund Al Aqsa, or “Soldiers of Al Aqsa,” is an independent Salafist militant group which split from the Al Nusra Front in 2014. The group practices a kind of detente with — and may have an alleged sympathy for — the Islamic State.

But the group has hedged in the middle of Syria’s divided jihadist scene. For instance, it endorsed Al Nusra’s rebranding to its new name, Jabhat Fath Al Sham, a move some have interpreted as Al Nusra splitting with Al Qaeda. But the “split” may be more rhetorical than actual, The Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn observed.

And though Jund Al Aqsa is not formally part of Al Qaeda, it remains ideologically quite similar, John Arterbury aptly summarized at Bellingcat. The group has “perhaps no more than one thousand core fighters” though has “garnered a sterling reputation as effective shock troops,” Arterbury wrote.

There are hundreds of rebel groups in Syria competing for limited resources and recruits. Thus, demonstrating battlefield successes or innovative tactics are methods by which groups can raise their profile.

These drone attacks may have more effect as propaganda than a weapon for the battlefield.

But the example set by the group is unlikely to stay confined there.

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