The US Air Force was able to find and destroy an Islamic State command post thanks to the careless social media posts of an Islamic State supporter, according to a senior US military official. The official said the strike was part of a US Air Force intelligence program combing social media to locate targets in Iraq and Syria.
"It was a post on social media to bombs on target in less than 24 hours," said Air Force General Hawk Carlisle at an Air Force Association breakfast in Washington DC on Monday, according to defensetech.org.
"Incredible work when you think about," said Carlisle, telling the audience that at Hurlburt Field, Florida, the US Air Force has a unit monitoring social media for intelligence on the Islamic State.
The Air Force had discovered the location of the recently targeted Islamic State command post, Carlisle said, when intelligence analysts in Hurlburt were "combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command. And in some social media, open forum, bragging about the command and control capabilities for Daesh," said Carlisle, using the pejorative Arabic name for the Islamic State.
"These guys [in Hurlburt] go: 'We got an in.' So they do some work, long story short, about 22 hours later through that very building, three [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] take that entire building out."
One of Islamic State's strengths has been its ability to recruit and spread propaganda through social media. A study by the Brookings Institute in March estimated that 46,000 active Twitter accounts are linked to Islamic State supporters. The Brookings researchers used publicly available GPS data to track several accounts to locations in Iraq and Syria. In mid-December Islamic State ordered supporters to turn off GPS tracking on mobile devices.
Carlisle's claims regarding the US Air Force strikes against the Islamic State demonstrate how the group's propaganda presence on social media has been turned into a weakness, with analysts exploiting the masses of photographs and posts from Islamic State supporters and fighters and turning it into valuable intelligence.
The US-led coalition is continuing a campaign of airstrikes, and on Wednesday US Central Command confirmed they had destroyed a car bomb factory in the Northern Iraqi town of Hawija. Reuters reported on Thursday that the strikes flattened an entire neighborhood of the town killing dozens of people, including civilians.
"I helped pull a family of six from the debris,"Hassan Mahmoud al-Jubbouri, a 76-year-old resident told Reuters. "Their bodies were mutilated. We brought a blanket and gathered all the body parts inside and took them to the cemetery."
Watch the Vice documentary, "The Islamic State."
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