Islamic State communications, positions hit by U.S. cyberattacks, commandos


Defense Secretary Ash Carter says U.S. cyberattacks to disrupt the Islamic State’s communications and overload their networks could force the militant group to use older technologies that are easier for the U.S. to intercept.

Carter and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are providing more details on how the U.S. is using computer-based attacks as part of the military operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

U.S. officials told The Associated Press last week that the military had launched a far more aggressive cybercampaign against the group. The aid includes efforts by U.S. Cyber Command to prevent the group from using the Internet and social media to communicate and distribute propaganda aimed at attracting and inspiring recruits.

The United States is waging cyberattacks against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and its newly deployed commandos are also carrying out secret missions on the ground, Pentagon leaders said on Monday, in the latest signs of quietly expanding U.S. activity.

Carter said the cyberattacks, particularly in Syria, were designed to prevent Islamic State from commanding its forces, and Washington was looking to accelerate the cyberwar against the Sunni militant group.

“The methods we’re using are new. Some of them will be surprising,” Carter told a Pentagon news conference.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the cyberattacks were helping lay the groundwork for an eventual offensive operation to recapture the city of Mosul in Iraq from Islamic State.

Carter and Dunford, the Pentagon’s top civilian and uniformed officials, both suggested the attacks were aimed at overloading the militants’ networks. They declined to delve into specifics.

“We don’t want the enemy to know when, where and how we’re conducting cyberoperations. We don’t want them to have information that will allow them to adapt over time,” Dunford said.

Dunford suggested Islamic State might not know why its computer networks were proving unreliable.

“They’re going to experience some friction that’s associated with us and some friction that’s just associated with the normal course of events in dealing in the information age. And frankly, we don’t want them to know the difference.”

The United States disclosed in January that a new, roughly 200-strong U.S. contingent of special operations forces was “in place” in Iraq, poised to carry out raids against Islamic State and other secret missions, both in Iraq and in Syria.

Carter disclosed on Monday that the “expeditionary targeting force,” or ETF, was already operating on the ground.

“The ETF is in position, it is having an effect and operating, and I expect it to be a very effective part of our acceleration campaign,” he said, without elaborating.

Its deployment represents increased U.S. military activity on the ground against Islamic State, exposing American forces to greater risk — something President Barack Obama has done only sparingly.

The force follows another deployment last year of up to 50 U.S. special operations troops in Syria to coordinate on the ground with U.S.-backed forces battling Islamic State.

The U.S. military disclosed last week that those U.S. forces helped opposition forces recapture the strategic Syrian town of al-Shadadi from Islamic State.

The Pentagon said recapturing the town helped sever links between Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the two major power centers in Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.

More knowledge about the group’s operations is expected to be discovered, Carter said.

“As our partners take control of Shadadi, I believe we will learn a great deal more about ISIL’s criminal networks, its criminal enterprise and what it does to sustain them,” Carter said, using an acronym for the group.