Here’s your Situation Update for May 22, 2018

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Marines return to Sangin to advise Afghan National Army in combat operations (Department of Defense photo)

Welcome to your Situation Update, a regular feature from Insurgentsia that covers irregular war and runs weekday mornings.

The weather forecast this morning is cloudy with a 30% chance of you skipping over the weather forecast to get to the main content. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

The Department of Defense chose the ninth general to run the war in Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. Scott Miller comes from Joint Special Operations Command and will take over the war as it enters its 18th year this fall. Outgoing Gen. Nicholson visited Farah, the city that was overrun by the Taliban last week. Nicholson boasted with the Afghan defense minister that the time it took for Afghan and coalition forces to react to Taliban fighters (overrunning the city, killing Afghan security forces, and laughing and joking while strolling in the streets) represented progress.

Israel claimed to be the first country to use the F-35 in combat in remarks to local media. “We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East and have already attacked twice on two different fronts,” the Israel air force chief said. The most advanced fighters in the world are flying in the Middle East as foreign powers fight a proxy war in Syria. Last winter, Russian Su-57s were spotted in Syria. American F-35s and F-22s are also in the area of operations.

Iraq sentenced a Belgian to death for being a member of Islamic State in a 10 minute hearing. The Belgian appeared in an IS video threatening Europe. So far, Iraqi courts have sentenced 300 members of IS to death including 100 foreigners. Some sentenced to death were wives of IS fighters with small children.

Turkey sentenced coup planners to life in court on Monday. 106 people involved in the 2016 failed coup received maximum sentences under Turkish law. Most evidence against them was from two participants who turned state’s witness for reduced sentences.

Indonesian police killed 14 suspected terrorists and arrested dozens more in raids following suicide bombings last week. Those killed were people who “resisted,” said the police chief.

An unclaimed bombing killed 16 people in Afghanistan today. The bombing occurred in Kandahar, a province known for its heavy Taliban presence.

Your baby powder could be funding Islamic State in Afghanistan (IS-K) said advocacy group Global Witness in a new report. IS-K is illegally operating talc mines that is exported and makes its way to the United States and Europe.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be asked in the comments section and answers will be unhelpful. To receive these updates in your inbox, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

Here’s your Situation Update for May 17th, 2018

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Israeli Defense Force photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a regular feature from Insurgentsia that covers irregular war and runs weekday mornings.

The weather forecast this morning is sunny with a 20% chance of emotional reasoning. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Most of the Palestinians killed by Israel were Hamas said a senior Hamas official to a Palestinian news organization. Hamas is an Islamist political party that runs Gaza and includes a militant wing whose mission is to destroy Israel. Another spokesperson for Hamas said that they were paying for the funerals of 50 of the killed whether they were Hamas or not. A third Hamas official said it is “natural to see members or supporters of Hamas in large numbers” at protests like the one at the border fence and that those killed were protesting peacefully. Human rights groups say it is irrelevant if those killed were affiliated with Hamas if they were killed while unarmed and not posing a threat to Israeli security forces.

Election-related violence continued in Iraqi Kurdistan yesterday according to the chief of the electoral commission. Several polling stations in Kirkuk were under threat of armed men to change the election results. “The employees of the commission are in a hostage situation,” said the chief.

Islamic State, diminished in Iraq in Syria, is still active in other parts of the world. The Wall Street Journal published an overview of all the places militant groups aligned with IS are still operating including Afghanistan and West Africa.

There is good news in Afghanistan according to a corrected Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report that showed Afghan troop decline is not as bad as once thought. Okay, I lied. It’s not good news. SIGAR said the corrected numbers still show a “sharp decline,” just not quite as sharp as before.

India declared a Ramadan ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir, the first one in 18 years. Indian forces occupy Jammu and Kashmir and are engaged in continuing operations against Muslim separatists there. Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based separatist group, called the cease-fire a “sin” and will not honor it.

Islamic State claimed the attack on Indonesian police yesterday by four men armed with swords.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be asked in the comments section and answers will be given only if they paint the author in a good light. To receive these updates in your inbox, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

Here’s your Situation Update for May 15th, 2018

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A U.S. Marine on a patrol near Bost Airfield, Afghanistan, April 21, 2018 (Department of Defense photo)

Welcome to your Situation Update, a regular feature from Insurgentsia that covers irregular war and runs weekday mornings.

The weather forecast this morning is humid with a 30% chance of reaching a level of cynicism so deep it will be considered transcendental. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

“The city is closed, people are panicked and in a state of fear. Some people left their homes and fled the city, some are trapped,” said an Afghan Minister of Parliament from Farah, a city of 50,000 that was mostly captured by Taliban fighters today. The attack began at 2:00 a.m. local time and quickly overran most of the city causing the governor of the province to flee. Some areas of the city including the police headquarters are still contested. If Farah is completely taken, it will be the second major city taken by the Taliban since the U.S. invasion in 2001. “We do look towards a victory in Afghanistan, but not a military victory. The victory will be a political reconciliation.” said Secretary of Defense James Mattis earlier this month.

“We can’t put all these people in jail,” said an Israeli government spokesperson when asked why the IDF was shooting dead protesters at the fence enclosing occupied Gaza. The U.N. Humans Rights Commissioner said among those killed are “women, children, journalists, first responders and bystanders.”

Maybe we didn’t export American-style democracy to Iraq after all, since Kurdish political parties engaged in a gunfight after election results were announced. Many expected the two major political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to fair poorly in the election after the many political losses the Kurds faced after the failed referendum last year. After local news announced that the KDP and PUK gained seats, the leading opposition party, Gorran, accused them of election fraud. In response, the PUK sent Peshmerga fighters in technicals to shoot at Gorran’s headquarters and a short gunfight ensued. Nothing says “this was a legitimate election” like attacking your political rival’s headquarters with machine guns.

Iraq continued air strikes in Syria this week and announced it destroyed an Islamic State “command and logistics support center.” Before these strikes, Iraq had not attacked its neighbors since the 1991 invasion of Kuwait. After decades of American destruction and assistance, it is now able to once again.

Houthis rockets struck military targets in SaudiArabia according to their television media division. Houthi rocket attacks in Saudi Arabia are the reason the Department of Defense says it deployed Special Forces soldiers to the Saudi border with Yemen.

This concludes your Situation Update. Please keep your questions until the end of briefing. To receive these updates in your inbox, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

Here’s your Situation Update for May 14th, 2018

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Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, an evidently irregular feature from Insurgentsia that covers irregular war and runs weekday mornings.

The weather forecast this morning is hot with an 80% chance of making it through this, because look how far you’ve already come. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Israeli troops killed dozens of Palestinians today in Gaza as protesters approached the fence separating Gaza from Israel. Gaza is occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces who control both the airspace and territorial waters of Gaza. Protests at the barrier have been going on for several weeks, but today the protests grew in size in response to the American announcement that it will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (considered the capital of both the Israelis and Palestinians). Associated Press reported at the time of publishing that 52 Palestinians were killed by the Israelis and more than 1,200 injured. The IDF reported that some Palestinians were armed, but no evidence has been provided.

The US successfully exported American-style democracy to Iraq apparently, since the turnout in Iraq’s elections was 44.5% — less than a typical US presidential election, but much more than a typical midterm. The winner appears to be Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric who led an insurgent militia against the American occupation.

Three church bombings in Indonesia were a family affair say police. The three separate bombings on Sunday morning were perpetrated by a father, mother, and their four young children.

A bomb was found at a South African mosque today just three days after the mosque was attacked my armed men.

Hezbollah confirmed they launched missiles at Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria in a statement from the leader of the group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. The missile attack marked a “new phase” in the Syrian war, said Nazrallah.

On-again, off-again American ally Turkey says the U.S. and Israel are partners in crime against humanity according to the Prime Minister in a statement to reporters in Ankara.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions have never been asked, so I wouldn’t know what to do with them. To receive these updates in your inbox, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile).

Here’s your Situation Update for February 19th, 2018

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Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings (except when it doesn’t, like last Friday). The scope of these posts will cover small wars, full hearts, can’t lose.

The weather forecast this morning is unseasonably warm with a 60% chance of media-induced cognitive dissonance. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

“A front against Israel where there is no war but also no peace,” writes the New York Times in a piece about the Iranian presence in Syria. While Iran deployed its own military and facilitated the organization of foreign militias to fight for Assad in the Syrian Civil War, Western think tanks see the potential for a permanent presence to counter Israel in the region, similar to the model it used with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Such a model has sparked multiple Israeli invasions of Lebanon. Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech brandishing a piece of an Iranian drone, threatening war.

A gunman attacked a church in Russia and Islamic State claimed responsibility. Countering violent extremism has become a discipline of study and an industry of its own, but this quote highlights why it is important to learn the basics: “Churchgoers said they had prevented more casualties by closing the door to the church and stopping the attacker from getting inside.”

Four U.S. soldiers died in Niger in October and the New York Times wrote a staggering account of their last moments with a visual aid detailing their last steps. It’s heartbreaking.

In Kabul, suicide attacks occur monthly. Street cleaners have to deal with the aftermath. “We found hands, feet — even a head. I couldn’t eat for the next two days. I was horrified,” says one.

Damascus suburb endures death and misery as it has for years and will continue to as long as outside powers decide to continue the war in Syria. Regional powers focus on more strategically important places while residents wonder what their children will eat and if there will be a tomorrow.

Three Iranian police were killed in Tehran in protests by Sufi Muslims against the government. A bus drove into a formation of Iranian riot police. The protests were in support of jailed Sufi leaders.

Turkey adds the Syrian government to its list of potential enemies having already threatened the United States in its campaign against the Kurdish YPG in northern Syria. Turkey threatening the Assad regime would have been good news to the U.S. and rebel forces in 2012, but today it just adds another violent dimension to a brutal conflict that shows no signs of ending.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section, but answers are having a great, but very reflective, President’s Day. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Tuesday, February 20th, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 12th, 2018

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Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s military operations other than war (oddly enough, this is another name for war).

The weather forecast this morning is freezing with a 30% chance of strained Clausewitz references. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

Gaza is starving and the world wonders if that will affect them this piece from The New York Times seems to say. Gaza has long been blockaded by Israel, but the tiny strip of land with two million people living there found ways around the economic siege to survive. Namely, tunnels into Egypt provided Gaza with goods and a tax revenue on those imported goods. But Egypt has cracked down on the tunnels and Gazans must turn to Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah is not keen to work with Gaza because it is ruled by a rival party, Hamas. With no where to turn, Hamas may turn to violence against Israel to draw international sympathy and aid.

Kobani, Syria is preserving a neighborhood destroyed by war by turning it into an open air museum. During the battle to win back Kobani from Islamic State, Kurdish fighters supported by  U.S. and allied air power targeted and destroyed areas where militants were operating. “A reinforced-concrete, three-story house on the street was pancaked. ‘Everyone in that house is dead now,’ said Mustafa, a 40-year-old mechanic,” says the article about part of the area preserved.

Anti-IS campaign in Iraq caused $45.7 billion in damage says a new study by the World Bank and Iraq. I wonder who will be generously willing to loan the Iraqi government money to rebuild (at a modest interest rate, of course)? The Wall Street Journal vaguely states, “international investors.”

Pakistan-based militants attacked an Indian Army base over the weekend, killing at least six. Indian authorities blamed Jaish-e-Muhammad, an insurgent group that has attacked government forces in Kashmir as well.

Israel bombed Syrian government positions over the weekend in retaliation for the shooting down off an Israeli fighter over Syrian airspace. The loss of the Israeli fighter was the first in three decades.

A Turkish helicopter was also shot down in Syria on Saturday, killing two Turkish soldiers. The Kurdish YPG claimed responsibility and posted a video of the attack.

Pakistani Taliban confirmed deputy leader killed by a suspected U.S. drone strike last week and appointed a new one.

“Tunisia is finished” says one migrant who fled to Europe is this breakdown of the crisis from The Guardian. A crackdown on the smuggling routes from Libya, including a deployment of soldiers from Italy, has shifted the business to neighboring Tunisia.

Terrorism is not as useful lens for understanding violence in the Sahel said Nathaniel Powell of King’s College London for War on Rocks last week. Support for authoritarian regimes in squashing violent dissent is not helpful in the long run, he argues.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but we are unaware of answers at this time because we were traveling. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Tuesday, February 13th, 2018.

Here’s your Situation Update for February 7th, 2018

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Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a new feature from Insurgentsia that runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover the globe’s various conflicts in the realm of irregular warfare (the term “irregular warfare” being like the word “irregardless,” i.e. nonsensical and overused).

The weather forecast this morning is overcast with a 20% chance of misdirected outrage. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

President Trump wants a military parade modeled after the one on Bastille Day in France. The desire is apparently being taken as a presidential directive and is “being worked at the highest levels of the military.” On Twitter, people reacted with shock that the nation might consider fetishizing the military in a grand public spectacle unironically just days after the Super Bowl.

Public attention shifts from Syria despite nearly daily airstrikes on civilian-populated areas and massive death tolls. Over 80 people were killed on Tuesday in Syrian government air and artillery strikes. With little hope for a ceasefire, civilians wonder why they even try to film and report the human rights abuses they witness. To them, it seems the international community no longer cares.

And if that makes you depressed, don’t read this about Libya, where no plan to by the Trump Administration to bring stability to the nearly governmentless country means that Russia has decided to back its own horse in that race. After meeting with whom the U.S. recognizes as prime minister in December, the Trump administration has left Libyan affairs mostly up to the United Nations. Meanwhile, Russia has backed former general and strongman, Khalifa Haftar, including brokering weapons for oil deals and printing money for the Haftar-allied government.

Not so tranquil in the Maldives, known as a small but beautiful island country in South Asia, where the president appears to have issued a state of emergency and purged the supreme court and opposition.

New imagery shows Chinese development on reclaimed Islands in the South China Sea. China has long insisted the buildings were not for military purposes, but new photos show the runways, ships, and supporting buildings in new detail.

Turkish border towns feel repercussions from Syria campaign. Rockets and mortars from Syria’s Kurdish-held areas are not uncommon in Syrian border towns like Reyhanli. “This is happening every day now. I’m just waiting for it all to be over,” said a Turkish mother with her two children who were shopping for groceries while explosions thudded in the distance.

Meanwhile, France accuses Turkey and Iran of violating international law in Syria. The move is noteworthy because France and Turkey are both NATO allies. The Turkish foreign minister is on his way to Iran for talks about Syria’s future.

And Syria accuses Israel of airstrikes on government positions. There is a lot going on there.

The U.S. encourages NATO to establish long-term training mission in Iraq like the one it has had in Afghanistan for a decade. One senior NATO diplomat commented to Reuters, “This looks suspiciously like another Afghanistan. Few allies want that.”

Whoops, those tanks were ours. As many as nine American tanks provided to the Iraqi military ended up in the hands of Iran-backed militias says a new report.

Saudi living in Oklahoma arrested for al-Qaida ties. The man attended flight school in the United States and his fingerprints were found on an application to join al-Qaida from 2000 recovered in Afghanistan.

The VA motto is sexist says the head of the largest Iraq and Afghanistan veteran group. The motto, a quote from Lincoln, reads “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Today the VA must care for whoever shall have borne the battle, not just him.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section but answers are not forecasted. To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Thursday, February 8th, 2018.

Attacks Kill 120 and Wound Over 700 This Week Yet Public Outcry Scarce

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The world’s insurgentsia have been unusually active this week with attacks in Tunisia, Israel, Iraq, Turkey, and Ivory Coast. Interestingly, there has not been much public outcry (if any) in response to any of these attacks in the Western media — certainly not to the extent that the attacks at the Bataclan and elsewhere in Paris last November received. Nor have these attacks garnered the attention of the Charlie Hebdo attacks before that, despite some being similar in nature, i.e. targeting Western civilians. So, in case you missed it:

Last Monday, Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) fighters attacked army and police posts in the town of Ben Gardane in Tunisia killing 12 soldiers and seven civilians. Ben Gardane is close to the border with Libya and known for being a hotbed of jihadist recruitment. If the town fell to IS, it could establish another transnational control area like the one they enjoy in Iraq and Syria.

On Tuesday, stabbing attacks by a Hamas member in the Israeli city of Jaffa killed one American and injured twelve others. The American was 28 year old Taylor Force, an MBA student at Vanderbilt University, former Army officer, and West Point graduate. Today, four Israeli security forces members were injured in an attack by Palestinian gunmen at a security checkpoint near the entrance of an Israeli settlement near Hebron in the West Bank. These attacks are part of a surge of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories that have resulted in the deaths of 30 Israelis and roughly 180-200 Palestinians that some are calling the “Third Intifada”.

In Iraq, there were two attacks this week by IS using chemical weapons in the Shiite village of Taza, near Kirkuk, a region controlled by Kurdish militias. Reports suggest as many as 600 injured. According to the Department of Defense, IS is using chlorine and mustard gas in its attacks, which it is likely manufacturing itself. Last month, the head of the IS chemical weapons program was captured in a raid by US special operations forces. Additionally, 47 Iraqi soldiers were killed by IS in attacks near the recently liberated city of Ramadi.

In Ivory Coast, an attack most like the Paris attacks occurred. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters attacked a beach resort in the city of Grand Bassam yesterday, killing at least 14 civilians and two soldiers. Four of the victims were Westerners, including one French and a German national. The beach resort was likely targeted because it is popular amongst Westerners. This is not the first attack by AQIM this year: in January, AQIM-affiliated group al-Murabitun attacked a hotel popular with Westerners in Burkina Faso, killing 30 and wounding 56.

Finally, 37 were killed and dozens more injured in a suicide car bombing in the Turkish capital of Ankara yesterday. The Turkish government claims a male and female member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were responsible. The target was a busy bus stop and mostly civilians were killed. In response, Turkey has begun airstrikes on Kurdish militia camps in northern Iraq.

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Protesters in Luxembourg in response the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris (Jwh/Wikimedia Commons)

The combined death toll of just these attacks this week is 57 civilians, 61 military, with over 700 wounded.  The civilian deaths are only about half that of the November 2015 Paris attacks, but almost five times as many as the Charlie Hebdo attack. Of course, only a small fraction of the attacks were on Westerners and none were in Europe. After years of violence, one might understand why Westerners would be numb to attacks in the Middle East and perhaps even in Africa, despite these victims also being human beings. But as one Ankara foreign resident pointed out, why do Westerners feel nothing for Turkey?

“It is very easy to look at terror attacks that happen in London, in New York, in Paris and feel pain and sadness for those victims, so why is it not the same for Ankara? Is it because you just don’t realise that Ankara is no different from any of these cities? Is it because you think that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, like Syria, like Iraq, like countries that are in a state of civil war, so therefore it must be the same and because you don’t care about those ones, then why should you care about Turkey? If you don’t believe that these attacks in Ankara affect you, or you can’t feel the same pain you felt during the Paris or London attacks, then maybe you should stop to think why, why is it that you feel like that.”

Perhaps we should take a look at the numbers on the top of this page, take note of our feelings, and think, “why?”

Iraq: The New Drone Capital of the World

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DoD photo by Tech. Sergeant Sabrina Johnson, U.S. Air Force

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs), have become sort of the ubiquitous symbol of the war formerly known as the Global War on Terror (GWOT). While officially in use by the United States since the Vietnam War, they entered American public consciousness during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bore the brunt of American offensive operations in other realms of “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO) like Pakistan and Yemen, mostly against unarmored mounted and dismounted targets without anti-air capability. As such, they have become the near-perfect weapon for counter-terrorism (i.e. killing high-value targets) in the 21st Century.

In popular culture, they were featured in 2003’s Terminator 3, chasing John Connor and Claire Danes down the hallways of Skynet and are a useful and easy to obtain kill streak reward in the Call of Duty video game franchise. Additionally, in the past few years articles warning of the dangers of their use by local police have become more common.

Today, Iraq may be the drone capital of the world with drones in its skies currently operated by the US, UK, Australia, Iran, Islamic State, and of course the Iraqi military itself. It is difficult to find accurate numbers (if any numbers at all) of drone sorties flown by these actors and compare them to other countries, but if Iraq is not the drone capital by volume then surely its diverse drone community makes it the de facto capital.

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Drones in popular culture: a screenshot from Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Coffee With Games photo)

American Drones

Ironically, the US invaded Iraq in 2003 to start flying drones there in part because of the perceived threat of Iraqi drones. Former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell’s infamous address to the United Nations was about more than just aluminum tubes. The capabilities of Iraq’s drone program was specifically addressed. While Powell showed a slide of an American AAI RQ-2 Pioneer drone painted in desert camouflage, he said:

Iraq has been working on a variety of UAVs for more than a decade. This is just illustrative of what a UAV would look like. This effort has included attempts to modify for unmanned flight the MiG-21 and with greater success an aircraft called the L-29. However, Iraq is now concentrating not on these airplanes, but on developing and testing smaller UAVs, such as this. UAVs are well suited for dispensing chemical and biological weapons. There is ample evidence that Iraq has dedicated much effort to developing and testing spray devices that could be adapted for UAVs.

In hindsight, Iraq’s drone program was not much of a threat to anyone and today it is the US’s drone program that is routinely condemned by much of the world. Nonetheless, it is an interesting tidbit of history that the invasion of Iraq and subsequent global ramp up of drone usage was in part justified by the threat of drones themselves.

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Slide from Powell’s address to the United Nations showing an American drone to represent the threat of Iraqi drones (YouTube)

During OIF/OEF the General Atomics MQ-1 A.K.A. “Predator” practically became a household name. So beloved by the DoD, its big brother, the MQ-9 “Reaper” is in some instances taking the place of piloted F-16s. One wing in the Air National Guard is completely replacing their F-16s with the MQ-9s. Indeed, drone usage by the US has become so commonplace in Pakistan that the tell-tale buzz noise they produce—a continuous droning sound, if you will—keeps the people who live in areas frequented by drone strikes in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear. That is the essence of air power in a nutshell.

After the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in December, 2011, the drones went with them. But in December 2013 and again in May 2014, even before the fall of Ramadi and Mosul to IS, then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki requested armed drones and even conceded in the second request that US troops be the ones piloting them—a humble move from the man who refused to allow immune-from-Iraqi-prosecution US troops in his country past the agreed December 31, 2011 deadline. Maliki’s request was initially denied—either to prevent the US from returning to Iraq indefinitely or to snub Maliki (or maybe a little from column A and a little from column B.) But by June of 2014 the Pentagon had confirmed that armed US drones, piloted by Americans, were indeed in Iraq, so the Obama administration changed its mind pretty quickly.

One indication of how critical drones had become to the GWOT/OCO is that in early 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a new medal for drone pilots and lethal cyber operators that would rank higher than the Bronze Star.  The award was subsequently nixed by his successor, Chuck Hagel, after some public concern, mostly associated with its precedence.

However, it is not just the military (and CIA) that are flying drones overseas. Like many traditional military roles, as troops leave the theater of operations as directed by the DoD, civilian contractors replace them. In Iraq, contractors piloting drones are making $225,000 or more a year. To try and compete with the private sector, the Air Force is now offering $125,000 critical skill retention bonuses to RPA pilots to keep them.

British Drones

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Royal Air Force MQ-9 Reaper (Unknown Photographer)

Of course it’s not only the Americans who are back in Iraq operating drones. The British are flying ISR drones in Iraq, notably in support of French warplanes as they bombed IS in retaliation for the November 2015 Paris attacks. The British have the armed MQ-9 Reapers in Iraq, but Cameron has said that the RAF will not participate in air strikes without authorization from Parliament.

Australian Drones

Never ones to miss an American war, even the second or third time around, the Australian pilots are also flying the hunter/killer Reapers in Iraq. However, they are flying American Reapers as attachments to the USAF’s 432d Operations Group out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, but this role will likely expand as Australia has purchased its own Reapers from the United States.

Australia’s involvement in the drone war against IS in Iraq is certainly an interesting example of weird, post-modern warfare: Australian pilots are piloting American drones in Iraq from Nevada.

Iranian Drones

Many were surprised last year at Iran’s announcement that it was deploying drones to Iraq. But much like the US, this is not Iran’s first unmanned aerial rodeo in Iraq. In fact, Iran’s drone program was actually born during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

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Iranian Karrar vs German V1

Iran has a pretty impressive (in number of varieties) fleet of drones, from the aging Mohajer developed during the Iran-Iraq war to the modern Fotros based on the Predator. However, Some of their drones look a bit . . .  unsophisticated. For example, the Karrar looks a lot like a 1940s-era German V1 rocket.  And their seemingly most sophisticated drone, based on a captured American Lockeed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, is probably just a mock-up and not a fully functional copy of the CIA’s stealth drone, even after several years to backwards-engineer it.

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Iranian Fotros drone (YouTube)

Drones of the Islamic State

If Iranian drones in Iraq surprise you, then you are going to love the drones of the Islamic State. IS too is flying drones in Iraq, but not with the same capabilities as the US and its allies or even Iran. Essentially, what IS is using are civilian remote controlled aircraft—the same toys many received for Christmas in the US this year. But that has not stopped the US and its allies from targeting these RPAs in its airstrikes.

Last March, OIR spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren described an airstrike on an IS drone:

The drone was not shot down. We observed it flying for approximately 20 minutes. We observed it land. We observed the enemy place the drone in the trunk of a car and we struck the car, destroying both the vehicle and the model airplane in the trunk.

He continued:

To my knowledge this is the first time we’ve observed ISIL using these types of equipment.

Recently, three more drones were targeted. While IS may be using “Amazon.com” drones, that isn’t stopping them from getting creative. Pictures are popping up on the internet of downed drones reportedly piloted by IS—some with explosives attached to them. If (admittedly a big if) these drone-borne IEDs become as effective as their US-Humvee-turned-VBIEDs, the enemies of IS will have a significant new threat to deal with.

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IS Drone (Friends of YPG YPJ Photo)

Iraqi Drones

Obviously Iraq is still struggling with some sovereignty issues when it comes to its airspace and the drones flying in it. But that does not mean that Iraq’s fledging air force is without its own RPAs.

Iraq was trained to use and operates the small, hand-thrown AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven drones favored by American infantry companies. But the lack of armament and short range of the Raven, combined with the imminent threat of losing half of their territory to IS, resulted in the Iraqi government requesting more sophisticated drones like Predators and Reapers. As noted earlier, the US denied these requests.

Even though the US came back to Iraq and started flying its own drone missions, Iraq had still been looking for a drone supplier for its own air force. It is apparent now that an agreement was made with China to buy the Caihong (Rainbow)-4 or CH-4. It is unknown how many Iraq will be buying, but as of the sixth of this month, the Rainbow has made its first combat airstrike against an IS position.

Iraq’s need for armed drones is not likely to diminish in the near future, so it could be an opportunity for China, who has already sold CH-3s to Nigeria to use in operations against Boko Haram.

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Iraqi Air Force CH-4 (Iraqi Ministry of Defense Photo)

Iraq Wars Episode II: Attack of the Drones

There are currently a lot of drones in Iraq and it looks like soon there will be more. OIR partners Canada, Netherlands and Jordan have requested drones from the US. Earlier this year, Canada restarted its attempt to acquire a squadron of Predators and if successful, they will be operational by 2021. Northrop Grumman offered to sell Canada the strictly-surveillance RQ-4 Global Hawk specifically for arctic operations, but Canada declined. Everyone wants the hunter/killers.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force sent pilots to the US to train on Reapers this year even before they ordered any aircraft. The Netherlands expects full operational capacity of their now-ordered Reapers in late 2017. Whether or not they will deploy to Iraq or not is not clear, but why order armed drones if you are not going to use them?

Jordan, who famously bombed IS targets earlier this year, has too attempted to buy drones from the US but like Iraq has also been rebuked. And, like Iraq, they turned elsewhere. Somewhat astonishingly, Israel has agreed to provide Jordan with 12 of its flagship Heron TPs and another dozen Elbit Systems Skylarks.

Today, Iraq is home to not only its own drone program, but also the drones of at least three other countries, one quasi-state, foreign operated drones piloted by different foreigners, and more countries looking to jump into the fight. In a country with a war that seemingly no one wants to fight on the ground, Iraq is the new drone capital of the world.