The skies of Syria, Yemen, and Libya swarm with armed and dangerous unmanned aerial vehicles. And the technology is spreading farther and farther afield.
By Gwen Ackerman, Selcan Hacaoglu and Mohammed Hatem | October 30, 2019 12:01AM ET
The Kurdish fighters emerged from a tunnel and were spotted by a Turkish reconnaissance drone. As they were loading ammunition onto a truck in a parched Syrian landscape, the drone fed their coordinates to an F-16. It attacked seconds later, sending a huge ball of flames into the air. When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left but a crater—a success, Turkey’s defense ministry declared, as it released a video of the strike.
Turkey’s use of drones in such operations is highlighting the changing face of war in one of the world’s most volatile regions. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) turned the tide in Ankara’s decades-old counterinsurgency against the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the country’s southeast, northern Iraq, and Syria. In addition, the deployment of drones has saved the lives of Turkish soldiers and money for the defense ministry. Now it’s using UAVs to gain the upper hand against the Kurdish party’s sister organization, the People’s Protection Units. After U.S. troops began withdrawing on Oct. 9, Turkish drones, in tandem with fighter jets, started pounding a strip of land along the border with Syria to clear the way for its troops. “In most cases, they reach the scene of the attack and confirm the enemy was totally destroyed,” says Nihat Ali Ozcan, a strategist at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara. Altogether, at least three different types of drones have been deployed: mini drones used for surveillance and photography, the much larger Anka-S surveillance drone, and the Bayraktar TB-2, Turkey’s only armed drone.