Will Use of Surface-to-Air Missiles by Islamic State Lure U.S. Into Wider War?

The United States needs to be wary of being lured into a wider war with the Islamic State, which appears to be shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with weapons such as this. (Photo: U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

The United States needs to be wary of being lured into a wider war with the Islamic State, which appears to be shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with weapons such as this. (Photo: U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

In October of last year, in the New York Times, Kirk Semple and Eric Schmitt  reported on Islamic State videos showing Islamic State forces shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with shoulder-launched missiles, also known as Manpads (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems). They then speculated that allied airstrikes “will bring out more proof of the jihadists’ antiaircraft abilities.”

“Based on past conflicts,” said one senior American military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate intelligence assessments, the missiles “are game changers out there.”

The proliferation of antiaircraft weaponry has also heightened concerns about the vulnerability of Iraq’s airports, particularly Baghdad International Airport, the country’s most important transportation hub and a lifeline for military supplies and reinforcements to Iraq.

Yesterday at the Daily Beast, Nancy Youssef reported that the Islamic State released photos showing its fighters using Manpads in the Sinai. She says they were likely procured from forces in Libya.

What’s next: the Islamic State Air Force?

The Islamic State had better watch out: shooting down Iraqi and Western helicopters and planes and procuring other advanced weaponry is a surefire method of inciting the West to become much less discriminating in its airstrikes. As in, “Damn the collateral damage, full speed ahead!”

The Islamic State leadership is not likely to be concerned about the loss of the lives of citizens in the territory it holds or of its rank-and-file fighters. Plus, they gain the added benefit of increased Middle-Eastern anger at the West for Muslim deaths. But increased airstrikes are more likely to decimate the command structure and that’s hitting them where it hurts. (Note: not advocating it!)