The US-led Coalition has supplied commercial drones to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a spokesperson told Grasswire in a Sunday, July 23 email.
The Coalition spokesperson added that training in the use of drones is not part of its SDF training program.
Formal UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems] employment training is not part of the Coalition POI (program of instruction) for SDF fighters.
However, a limited number of small commercial-off-the-shelf quadcopter style systems have been supplied to the SDF to assist in their defeat of ISIS in Raqqah.
These types of systems are effective in local reconnaissance and aide in the targeting of ISIS fighters and the protection of non-combatants.
The spokesperson was responding to questions prompted by the publication of a video on YouTube by the Syrian ANHA news agency on July 20 which appears to show an SDF UAS dropping a munition on a target. We believe this is the first time that imagery of an armed SDF drone has been published. The video also shows the UAS carrying out surveillance or reconnaissance on various targets, apparently at night.
ANHA’s accompanying story in Kurdish says that the video was filmed in Raqqa and shows Islamic State fighters.
Grasswire cannot confirm the location or targets shown in the video, or that it shows ISIS positions. Some have suggested that the video may be training footage because there is no obvious target for the small bomb dropped by the drone.
The munition used looks similar to other improvised devices documented by Nick Waters that were dropped by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The SDF has shot down and captured a number of ISIS drones in recent months, including systems adapted to drop munitions.
We do not know if the SDF used a captured drone already adapted to carry munitions or if the SDF has developed similar technology to that employed by ISIS and by Iraqi security forces in Mosul.
Grasswire asked if the Coalition also supplies UAS technical or engineering support to the SDF but the spokesperson did not respond to the question.
UPDATE July 24 The Syriac Military Council posted video it says is of a drone targeting ISIS positions in Raqqa
#MFS drone targeting ISIS positions in #Raqqa to liberate city from the ISIS with #SDF and air support of @coalition and @CENTCOM. pic.twitter.com/qGN3RGIPAx
— SyriacMilitaryMFS (@SyriacMFS) July 24, 2017
Grasswire has documented ISIS drone use in Syria and SDF capture of IS drones:
Islamic State’s air force: attacks and reconnaissance by drones
SDF drone use
The SDF has been releasing drone-shot footage and photographs for months. There has been a noticeable uptick in quality and volume of imagery released since the beginning of the operation to capture Raqqa city.
The Syriac Military Council, a Christian component of the SDF, posted drone-shot images it said were of Raqqa on July 23:
MFS drone flying over the ISIS controlled areas and buildings for reconnaissance in #Raqqa liberation battle with #SDF @coalition. pic.twitter.com/RhtUPpUq7J
— SyriacMilitaryMFS (@SyriacMFS) July 23, 2017
Imagery released in June showed the city, and leaflet drops by the SDF:
Pictures of #ISIS controlled #Raqqa in northern #Syria from an #SDF drone – show certain areas are still flooded pic.twitter.com/t4X5e0OlbO
— ScienceOfDiscontent (@SciOfDiscontent) June 6, 2017
Image of Raqqa city from a SDF surveillance drone. pic.twitter.com/hXWzSM3vK5
— Afarin Mamosta (@AfarinMamosta) June 24, 2017
SDF drone dropping leaflets on Raqqa city informing the local population to distance themselves from ISIS terrorists. pic.twitter.com/qYWbDpxnle
— Afarin Mamosta (@AfarinMamosta) June 20, 2017