In addition to annihilating the Islamic State on the ground with bombs, U.S. forces are also taking the fight against ISIS online with new, top secret cyber weapons.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, told reporters during a Monday briefing at the Pentagon that the U.S. is building an entire inventory of tools to use against ISIS on the digital battlefield. The goal, according to Carter, is to confuse and demoralize ISIS forces by destroying their ability to command and control units on the battlefield and to sever their abilities to utilize the internet to garner support.
“We are trying to both physically and virtually isolate ISIL. Limit their ability to conduct command and control, limit their ability to communicate with each other and limit their ability to conduct operations locally and tactically,” said Dunford.
Neither Carter nor Dunford could elaborate on what the cyber weapons are “because the methods we are using are new, some of them will be surprising, and some of them are applicable to other challenges other than ISIL.” He did, however, note that efforts on the cyber front are having positive results.
The cyber operation against ISIS entered a new phase last month when Carter authorized the first ever cyber assault by U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), according to a report by Los Angeles Times. The cyber attacks were key to the coalition operation to retake the Syrian town of Shadadi from ISIS last week by disabling the terrorist group’s ability to communicate during the battle.
“These are strikes that are conducted in the war zone using cyber, essentially as a weapon of war,” said Carter during an interview on National Public Radio Sunday, “just as we drop bombs, we’re dropping cyber bombs.” Both Carter and Dunford made it clear that the U.S. intends on expanding cyber capabilities as much as anything else in the fight against ISIS.
The acknowledgement of the cyber operation against ISIS is an unprecedented move from the Pentagon. “Dunford and Carter are making clear that the U.S. military can and is carrying out offensive cyber-operations,” said Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the New America think-tank and a cyber weapons expert, to the Wall Street Journal, “everyone knew we could do it, and this is the first public acknowledgment that we are doing it. It’s a big line to cross.”
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