A New Piece Of ISIS Sniper Gear May Signal A Bloody Era In The War on Terror

Gear
A U.S. Marine with Regimental Surveillance & Target Acquisition Company (RSTAC), 1st Marine Division, looks through a PVS-14 night vision scope during a night insert at Fort Irwin, Calif., Oct. 1, 2017.
Photo via DoD

In 1991, the overwhelming success of night vision-equipped U.S. troops in the Gulf War inspired a brand new axiom of the modern American military: We own the night. But new ISIS propaganda video, released following the expulsion of the terror group from their last de facto stronghold in Raqqa, has a clear message for Western forces: Not anymore. 


The six-minute video, “Snipers of the South – Wilāyat al-Janūb” published to social media on Nov. 10 shows an ISIS sniper and spotter using “a U.S. M4 with an unknown scope” and a $5,000 FLIR BHM thermal camera originally designed “to help maritime vessels see debris, rocks, other boats and landmarks in pitch-black conditions,” Army Times reports. Although U.S.-made military-grade night vision and thermal imaging gear are restricted export items under the Department of State’s jurisdiction, it is quite possible the equipment was liberated from Iraqi or U.S.-led coalition depots by ISIS militants in recent years — or simply purchased online and smuggled into Iraq and Syria by foreign-born fighters.

The video follows a September sizzle reel documenting the terror group’s last stand against the coalition siege on Raqqa, which showed an ISIS sniper wielding a 7.62mm Mk 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle — the go-to designated marksman rifle for troops fighting under U.S. Special Operations Command.

The proliferation of night-vision goggles among terrorist ranks isn’t just confined to ISIS. In July, a Taliban propaganda video showed a fighter rocking a 7.62mm FN Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) with high-tech goodies straight out of a Special Operations Peculiar Modification Kits; the same video showed fighters touting M16 rifles with Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG) scopes. In a July “exclusive,” CNN showed fighters with M4 carbines outfitted with night vision accessories alongside infrared laser sights and ACOG scopes. And in April, Taliban propaganda videos showed militants wearing AN/PVS 7b night vision goggles.

For years, militants' emerging night vision capabilities remained a negligible threat to the Department of Defense. Only a handful of Taliban and Al Qaeda were trained to use their few night-vision devices effectively in combat, as Adam Raymond reported for Task & Purpose in July, "nor did they fully grasp how much the U.S.’s night vision capability had improved, leaving them unaware that they were just as visible in the darkness as they were in daytime."

Related: ‘We Own the Night’: The Rise And Fall Of The US Military’s Night-Vision Dominance »

But that advantage has evaporated in recent months. The ISIS video comes amid reports that Taliban insurgents belonging to an elite “Red Unit” outfitted with sophisticated night-vision equipment —described by the New York Times as “Star Wars-like headgear containing Russian-built night goggles” — slaughtered scores of Afghan police officers this month. Despite their past inexperience, Taliban fighters now appear to, as Raymond put it, "fully understand the power of night vision" like the foreign fighters who fill ISIS ranks in Iraq and Syria

Speaking to Task & Purpose correspondent Marty Skovlund in Kabul on Nov. 4, U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan insisted that Afghan National Defense and Security Forces “consistently” defeated the Taliban on a regular basis. But the “Red Unit” spree is a demoralizing blow to Afghan security forces that just weeks ago saw nearly an entire Afghan Army unit “wiped out” by militants using stolen U.S.-supplied Humvees loaded with explosives. “The Taliban are trying to capture the entire province,” one local Afghan official told the New York Times, “and they have modern weapons.”

With ISIS fully expelled from its urban strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul, it’s likely that Syrians and Iraqis who have endured years of horrors under the so-called caliphate are feeling a glimmer of hope. But with thousands of ISIS militants now scattered to the winds and planning the group’s next bloody resurgence, the Afghan experience with night-vision-equipped Taliban militants may portend a new era of ISIS terror that is silent and deadly — and can see in the dark.

WATCH NEXT:

U.S. Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain is captured in this photo during a media opportunity while serving as backup crew for NASA Expedition 56 to the International Space Station May, 2018, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. (NASA photo)

NASA is reportedly investigating one of its astronauts in a case that appears to involve the first allegations of criminal activity from space.

Read More Show Less
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen of the 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST) and 106th Rescue Wing prepare to identify and classify several hazardous chemical and biological materials during a collective training event at the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Facility, New York, May 2, 2018. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Harley Jelis)

The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation's bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times.

The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.

The information — housed on a dot-org website run by a private contractor — has been moved behind a secure federal government firewall, and the website was shut down in May. But Homeland Security officials acknowledge they do not know whether hackers ever gained access to the data.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Marine with Task Force Southwest observes Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps soldiers move to the rally point to begin their training during a live-fire range at Camp Shorabak. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Luke Hoogendam)

By law, the United States is required to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms" when it trains foreign militaries. So it makes sense that if the U.S. government is going to spend billions on foreign security assistance every year, it should probably systematically track whether that human rights training is actually having an impact or not, right?

Apparently not. According to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office, both the Departments of Defense and State "have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces" — and while the Pentagon agreed to establish a process to do so, State simply can't be bothered.

Read More Show Less
The Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Public domain)

The Kansas City VA Medical Center is still dealing with the fallout of a violent confrontation last year between one of its police officers and a patient, with the Kansas City Police Department launching a homicide investigation.

And now Topeka's VA hospital is dealing with an internal dispute between leaders of its Veterans Affairs police force that raises new questions about how the agency nationwide treats patients — and the officers who report misconduct by colleagues.

Read More Show Less
Jeannine Willard (Valencia County Detention Center)

A New Mexico woman was charged Friday in the robbery and homicide of a Marine Corps veteran from Belen late last month after allegedly watching her boyfriend kill the man and torch his car to hide evidence.

Read More Show Less