The Pentagon is expanding its cyber war against Islamic State computer networks, senior defence officials have said as they claimed to have seized the momentum in the 18-month-old fight against the jihadists.
Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and the US military’s top officer, General Joe Dunford, told reporters the United States was determined to “accelerate” the anti-IS campaign, and indicated cyber warfare is playing an increasingly important role in doing so.
The US-led coalition is working to disrupt IS’s command chain “to cause them to lose confidence in their networks,” Carter said yesterday.
He did not offer technical specifics but said the tactic was to “overload their network so that they can’t function, and do all of these things that will interrupt their ability to command and control forces there, control the population and the economy.”
Overloading a network is a common type of cyber attack known as a denial of service, but Carter hinted that other techniques are being used.
“The methods we’re using are new, some of them will be surprising and some of them are applicable to other challenges... we have around the world,” he said.
Carter and Dunford visited the US Cyber Command headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland in January and encouraged workers there to “do what they can” to intensify the fight against the IS group.
Nearly two years since it started bombing IS positions in Iraq and Syria, in a campaign that also included training and equipping local anti-IS forces, the US-led coalition is now focusing on cyber tactics.
While the IS group maintains a firm grip on vast areas of Iraq and Syria, the jihadists have suffered some serious setbacks.
In Iraq, coalition-supported Iraqi forces recaptured Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad, in December.
And in recent weeks in Syria, a largely Kurdish group called the Syrian Democratic Forces, again backed up by commando training and US-led precision air strikes, encircled the town of Al-Shadadi in Hasakeh province, then moved in and recaptured it from the jihadists.
“Because of our strategy and our determination to accelerate our campaign, momentum is now on our side and not on ISIL’s,” Carter said, using an alternative abbreviation for the IS group.