The Battle for Mosul and the Future of War in the Middle East

A scuttled M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank just outside of Jaman Al Juburi, Iraq. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Marine Corps

How unconventional adversaries leverage low-tech solutions.

Additionally, multiple avenues for the proliferation of technologically sophisticated UAVs means they will appear more frequently in Middle Eastern states’ arsenals. For almost a year Iranian media have shown footage of indigenously produced drones striking targets in Syria, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has bragged about its use of drones over Syria and Iraq. Last month Iranian news outlets announced that Tehran has built a new long-range aerial attack drone – reverse-engineered from a captured U.S. RQ-170 drone – capable of striking up to four targets with “pinpoint accuracy”. The IRGC also recently unveiled a new drone with a range of 620 miles capable of targeting ships for maritime suicide attacks. Finally, despite U.S. efforts to establish strict controls for the global proliferation of drones, China has exported armed UAVs to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Thus, it is almost unthinkable that any future conflict in the region will not include significant drone operations.

After almost a decade of inaction, Congress and the military services have acknowledged these asymmetric threats and are racing to develop counter-measures. In 2015 Congress appropriated $40 million for a joint U.S.-Israeli initiative to develop and produce a system to detect tunnels. Meanwhile, the Navy, Army, Marines, and Air Force are each testing various anti-drone technologies – including lasers and electronic counter-measures – with the Pentagon reportedly rushing them to U.S. forces in the region with “a sense of urgency.” Yet as important as the development of these technologies is, they are only part of the solution. Technological advancements must be matched with corresponding tactical innovations and adjustments in doctrine to account for these threats. Moreover, because history shows that U.S. adversaries are consistently able to develop countermeasures of their own, U.S. policymakers and commanders must remain vigilant in their efforts to address this threat. For just as almost every conflict in the Middle East over the past decade has witnessed the use of UAVs and tunnels, it is a near certainty that they will be deployed against U.S. and/or allied forces in the region’s conflicts for decades to come.

Benjamin Runkle has served as in the Defense Department, as a Director on the National Security Council, and as a Professional Staff Member on the House Armed Services Committee. He is currently a Senior Policy Fellow with Artis International, and is the author of Wanted Dead or Alive: Manhunts from Geronimo to Bin Laden (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Image: A scuttled M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank just outside of Jaman Al Juburi, Iraq. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Marine Corps