ISIS has been rigging small, off-the shelf drones and model airplanes as time bombs in an effort to blunt the imminent offensive to retake its Iraqi stronghold in the northwestern city of Mosul, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
The official confirmed an incident last week, first reported by The New York Times, in which two Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were killed while trying to dismantle a model airplane that was shot down in northern Iraq.
"There was an explosive charge hidden inside what appeared to be a battery that was on a timer," said the official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity.
The deaths of the two Kurdish fighters were believed to be the first for anti-ISIS forces as a result of the use of drones on the battlefield by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. official said U.S. and coalition forces, and the Iraqi Security Forces, have been warned to treat the drones and model airplanes as "UXO," or unexploded ordnance.
"Call in EOD," or explosive ordnance disposal, personnel upon encountering the devices, the official said troops have been told.
In a phone briefing to the Pentagon from Baghdad, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said that Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of CJTF-OIR, has made countering the drones a priority.
Townsend "has made clear we're going to move out smartly against them," Dorrian said.
The Pentagon's Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization has deployed systems to either shoot down the drones or bring them down electronically, Dorrian said. He declined to describe the systems or say where they were deployed.
No U.S. or coalition troops have been killed or injured by drones, and "this threat is not new to the area. The coalition has been working this issue for some time," Dorrian said.
ISIS has deployed numerous small drones, mostly for surveillance, he said. "We have seen them over coalition bases. We have shot some of them down."
ISIS has used a variety of small drones and model airplanes in an effort to gain intelligence and harass Iraqi forces as the offensive against Mosul approaches, Dorrian said. "There's nothing very high-tech about them. Some are just quad-copters."
Both Dorrian and the U.S. official stressed that ISIS' use of drones would not be a game-changer in the push to drive the militants from Mosul. "It's not going to have any strategic impact at all," Dorrian said. "It's not going to stop anything."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.