October 13, 2016
On Tuesday, French media broke the story that two French soldiers in Erbil had been severely injured and two Peshmerga fighters killed by what appears to be the first successful use of a drone carrying explosives.
At this point, little information is available. The French daily Le Monde reported that “two paratroopers were struck by the booby-trapped drone, sent by a group linked to the Islamic State. The exact circumstances of the attack remain to be specified.” The article also mentions a number of light injuries among other soldiers.
If confirmed, this would be the first known instance in which an explosive, booby-trapped drone was successfully used by a non-state actor against Western forces. We do not know what kind of drone was used, and we can only speculate as to what type of explosives it carried (assuming that was in fact the payload). The drone was most likely commercially available, not unlike those some War on the Rocks readers fly in a park on the weekend. Regardless, this was an inevitable development. For a while now, civilian drones have appeared on the world’s battlefields, having come full circle: Drones were initially an exclusively military technology, but civilian use has grown exponentially over the last few years, and we are now seeing these systems flown by non-state actors across the world’s hotspots. Both sides in civil wars now use off-the-shelf drones, from Ukrainian separatists to the Iraqi interior ministry. Even Western states are purchasing and using commercially-available platforms, including the Dutch and German navies as well as U.S. Special Operations Command.