On the Mosul front lines, Iraqi forces have found a new tool to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group’s suicide car bombs: small commercial drones.
The Mosul offensive has slowed in recent days as Iraqi forces have pushed into more densely populated areas, where they cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians, who have been told to stay in their homes.
The extremists captured Mosul and surrounding areas in 2014, and have had plenty of time to dig trenches, block off roads and mine approaches to the city.
“Daesh dug trenches that they filled with water and they have a lot of suicide attackers and car bombs,” said al-Timimi, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group.
This has posed a threat to the Iraqi forces on ground as they now have to advance close quarters, ensuring civilian safety as they do so.
“We’re now involved in urban battles, facing a mobile enemy that moves in small groups and opens fire on troops and civilians indiscriminately,” said Lt. Gen. Qassem Jassem Nazzal.
With the constant threat of car bombs and potential IS in the densely populated areas, Mohammed Salih has been able to alert his forces after checking live feed from a drone his men were flying over the area, on the Mosul battle’s southern front.
Once located by the drone, an attack helicopter is used to take out the explosives-laden vehicle that was heading straight for his men.
“This drone allows us to reconnoiter the area, spot the enemy’s movements and direct our soldiers more efficiently towards their targets so we can destroy them,” Salih said.
“There are four Daesh (ISIS) members on your right-hand side. They are not friendlies, repeat, not friendlies,” Salih said.
Men of the Iraqi army’s 15th division were advancing through Salahiyah village, on the edge of Hamam al-Alil, one of the main targets on the vast southern front.
The drone flew over enemy lines and landed back on the roof of the village school, which sits atop a hill overlooking the plain and has been turned into a temporary command center.
The toy-like device is barely wider than a foot and is available in shops or online for around $600, or less than the latest iPhone.
It has a camera, four rotors and is guided with a joystick connected to a tablet that feeds images that can be shot from an altitude of more than 150 meters (500 feet).
Since the introduction of drones, the Iraqi army has been capable of advancing towards the Mosul centre. The battle for Mosul is expected to take weeks or even months.