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May 27, 2022

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Pentagon mobilizes hackers against Islamic State group

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WASHINGTON — Military commanders have mounted a cyberoffensive against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks by deploying hackers to penetrate the extremist group’s computer and cellphone networks, according to the Pentagon.

The cyberassault, which Defense Secretary Ashton Carter authorized last month, marks the first time teams from U.S. Cyber Command have been integrated into an active battlefield since the command was established in 2009.

“These are strikes that are conducted in the war zone using cyber, essentially as a weapon of war,” Carter told National Public Radio. “Just as we drop bombs, we’re dropping cyberbombs.” He did not reveal details of the effort, which U.S. officials say is in its early stages.

But they said U.S. cyberattacks, as well as U.S. airstrikes, proved decisive in last week’s battle by U.S. backed Kurdish militias to retake the northeastern Syrian town of Shadadi from Islamic State fighters.

The officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the operation, said teams operating from Fort Meade, which is between Baltimore and Washington, identified and jammed Islamic State online-communication networks during the battle.

The victory severed a critical route that the militants used to funnel fighters and supplies from the Iraqi border to Raqqah, their stronghold and self-declared capital in Syria.

Pentagon officials describe the amplified role of Cyber Command as part of a “strategic shift” from cyberdefense to cyberoffense as the military relies on the operations as another tool for national security.

Cyberoffense doctrine remains secret, but Carter has spoken about the need to mobilize Cyber Command against Islamic State because the group has grown increasingly sophisticated at using social media and other Internet platforms to recruit and radicalize followers around the world.

The effort was set in motion in December when the White House directed senior Pentagon officials to prepare options to defeat the militants online.

The directive followed terrorist attacks organized by Islamic State in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people, as well as a Dec. 2 attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 dead. The couple in the California attack had pledged allegiance to the group, but had no known contact with it.

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