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​ISIS Drones Show Us the Future Of War

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In recent years, U.S. military planners have been considering an uncomfortable scenario: What happens as more countries acquire drones? How will warfare change when the skies are filled with vehicles controlled remotely by enemies? We're getting a preview right now in the Middle East.


At the Lawfare Blog, analyst Cody Poplin shows screenshots taken by ISIS surveillance drones. The footage originally appeared in a propaganda video released in early August, detailing the planning and assault on a Syrian military base.


While the drones are low-tech by the standards of those used by the U.S., they can still get the basic job done and gather intelligence on the target and its surrounding terrain through aerial surveillance. ISIS would end up attacking the base on August 7th, capturing large segments of it after launching three suicide attacks on its gates.

As Poplin notes:

It is certainly a powerful turn of events, wherein jihadist cells in Syria are using readily available and relatively cheap technology that once was strictly the purview of states to level the playing field.

However, the desire to spend precious propaganda time displaying this capability may also suggest something about the place of drone technology in the jihadist mindset and betray a desire to claim for themselves a weapon of war that has stalked them for a decade.

It seems clear that militant groups are eager to celebrate their technological prowess both as a weapon of actual war and as a way to establish legitimacy in a propaganda war that has taken on increased importance. The appearance of drones in multiple jihadist propaganda videos would seem to suggest that drones have taken on their own cultural meaning, both here in the United States and abroad, in the wars against terrorism, and that meaning is something that terrorists now intend to trade in too.