Spanish troops stationed in Iraq, like the rest of the forces within the coalition fighting ISIS, now face a new danger: drone attacks. In response, the Spanish Ministry of Defense has set up an urgent plan to install an electronic shield at the Gran Capitán military base in Bismayah, which is under Spanish command and where some 450 soldiers and members of Spain’s Civil Guard are stationed, along with US, British and Portuguese personnel that have helped train 6,000 Iraqi troops.
A workshop containing wing fragments, military and radio parts and other equipment needed to make drones was discovered during the coalition’s ongoing assault to retake the city of Mosul.
ISIS originally used these unmanned aircraft, which can be bought for around $1,000 or constructed by hand, for monitoring Iraqi army positions, but with minor modifications, they have been fitted with explosive devices such as 40-millimeter grenades. There have been a number of attacks using them since last fall, although they have had relatively little impact. ISIS recently posted a video of a drone dropping a grenade on a group of Iraqi soldiers who were narrowly able to escape the explosion.
There is now the fear that ISIS will use armed drones for attacks in Europe
ISIS lacks any air power, but its drones are difficult to detect and intercept, and if used en masse, could pose a serious threat to coalition troops.
Spain’s Defense Ministry intends to try to neutralize drones that might threaten the Bismayah base by installing a radar system – of which there are several US or Israeli versions – that detects the arrival of drones several kilometers away and that then interferes with the radio signal controlling it, even if the device is using a GPS flight program. At the same time, defense on the base will be beefed up with reinforced control towers, concrete blast walls almost four meters high and air-raid shelters.
The idea is to take advantage of extension work to Bismayah, which is to be tripled in size to cover some 90,000 square meters so as to accommodate the further 125 soldiers and members of the Civil Guard that are to be deployed at Gran Capitán, some 60 kilometers south of Baghdad.
Drones that have fallen or been brought down without releasing their grenades pose a threat as de-facto mines, and troops have been told not to approach them. Coalition forces say that as yet ISIS has not used the drones to disperse chemical weapons in Iraq, although it has used them in Syria against the Russian-backed forces of the Assad regime.
Analysts say that the danger now is that ISIS will soon be able to make use of the experience it has acquired in Iraq and Syria to launch drone attacks in Europe.
English version by Nick Lyne.