After months of operating with near impunity, the weight of American-led airstrikes is now being felt on the ground in ISIS-controlled territory, as local intelligence reports Islamic State fighters are changing tactics and engaging in subterfuge in order to avoid the attention of bomb-laden warplanes.
Evidence of the changes, which has been corroborated by the United States military, shows that ISIS is taking ongoing steps to make them less readily identifiable from the air, and to reduce the volume of digital chatter traffic from jihadists with mobile phones. After years of counterinsurgency experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and the home nations, the United States and her intelligence partners have become exceptionally skilled at intercepting telecommunications, and this has clearly been picked up on by ISIS.
Western intelligence agencies including the United States and United Kingdom routinely use mass-collection and voice recognition software to locate wanted individuals or to detect pending attacks. As The Times reports, ISIS are taking this sufficiently seriously they are now cracking down on mobile phone usage and have issued edicts by twitter, ordering jihadis to not use their phone cameras in battle.
ISIS, which has until recently put a great deal of effort into remaining highly visible for reasons of influence and propaganda is now taking a more subtle approach, swapping it’s characteristic convoys of flag-bedecked captured lorries and trucks for cars or motorcycles going alone amid ordinary traffic. For Western air forces which have strict rules of engagement and are under enormous pressure to keep ‘collateral damage’ to a minimum, this may prove effective.
The nature of the Islamic State’s ground facilities has also changed too. In an attempt to reduce the impact of successful air strikes, the number of jihadists at each base, checkpoint or installation has reduced, with fighters being dispersed over a larger number of smaller locations. It appears false ISIS bases have also been set up, with empty buildings covered with black flags to make an appealing target for passing bombers.
Imposing unacceptable costs on democratic nations has long been a key element of counter-Western terrorist warfare, and as the present generation of RAF bombs carried by the striking Tornado fighters cost in the region of £62,000 each, presenting false targets makes sense.
The Royal Air Force has completed its third strike of Operation Shader today, taking out another pickup truck with air-dropped GPS-guided ordnance.