MOSUL - Inside an armoured vehicle in
Mosul, a colonel scans live footage from a
drone flying above the Iraqi city, hunting
targets for a new weapon deployed against
The Islamic State group has used small
commercial drones to drop explosives on
advancing Iraqi forces since they launched
the offensive to retake Iraq's second city
As the battle now focuses on recapturing
west Mosul, Colonel Hussein Muayad's federal
police forces have adopted the tactic,
equipping their own remote-controlled
surveillance drones with 40 mm grenades that
are usually fired from grenade launchers.
"Residents would stare at the sky" during
the Mosul fighting, fearing IS drones, says
Muayad, wearing a black jacket over his
federal police uniform. "Now it's the enemy
whose eyes never leave the sky."
The moustachioed police officer in his
40s is clearly proud of the new military
"They used to hit us once. But we can hit
them up to four times with a single drone,"
Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat of
the federal police -- who are taking part in
the battle alongside a special forces unit
-- says the "new military tactic" has been
"Dozens of terrorists have been killed
and wounded. Jihadist movements have been
paralysed," Jawdat says.
Muayad sits surrounded by four television
screens, a black drone at his feet. A dozen
oblong explosive devices tipped by the
small, rounded grenades are nearby, pin near
one end and a netted skirt taken from a
badminton shuttlecock on the other.
"That's so it keeps its balance as it
falls," Muayad says.
Chain-smoking cigarettes, the colonel
watches the live footage of a weaponised
drone as it slowly buzzes over the
devastated streets of west Mosul.
The device slows to a hover above a white
car near the front line.
"A vehicle providing logistic support,
used to transport fighters or food," Muayad
But there is no strike on the car, due to
the presence nearby of a device designed to
jam drone commands that Iraqi forces set up
to protect themselves from IS attacks.
- 'Precise strikes' -
The colonel shows footage of previous
attacks. The munitions fall in slow motion
on a group of fighters gathered in front of
a mosque. More explosives are dropped on a
car, small clouds of grey smoke erupting on
"West Mosul is very populated. The roads
are very narrow," Muayad says. "The point
with these drones is to have very precise
strikes to target the terrorists, not the
"Day and night, there are always 12
drones in the air, ready to strike," Muayad
But he refuses to say exactly how many
drones -- which can each carry up to four
grenades -- the police operate.
The devices have been equipped with an
extra battery to prolong their flight time
and can now cover a distance of eight
kilometres (five miles) up from less than
five kilometres (three miles) before.
Inside a ravaged courtyard in a
neighbourhood recently recaptured from the
jihadists, Captain Baraa Mohammed Jassem
from the Rapid Response Division silently
observes a surveillance drone about to take
He too says his elite interior ministry
force has "perfected" drones available
commercially so they can drop explosives on
"We took the... idea from the Daesh
terrorist organisation," he says, using an
Arabic acronym for IS.
IS has carried out drone attacks
throughout the Mosul operation, with the
first record of a deadly attack coming a few
days before drive was launched in October,
killing two Iraqi Kurdish fighters and
wounding two French special forces soldiers.
Over the past months, the jihadist group
has posted footage online filmed by the
cameras of its own remote-controlled drones
of explosive devices being dropped on
armoured vehicles and four-wheel-drive
Jassem says the new technique has been
useful to Iraqi forces, particularly when
they retook important public buildings
earlier this month.
"With a night drone, we found and carried
out a strike on a group of eight jihadists,
hitting them directly," he says.