Leaders in the US Defense Department announced during a briefing this week that they would be participating in a coalition operation with Iraqi and Kurd forces to help recapture the city of Mosul from Islamic State.
However, what sets this operation apart from others is that continued cyber warfare against the city's communications infrastructure will help play a continued effort in the attack.
Generally, the US does not announce its use of cyber warfare during its operations and this may in fact be the first time that it has done so. The US allegedly used electronic sabotage during the Gulf War in 1991 and it is believed that the country's military was responsible for the Stuxnet attack against Iran's nuclear program. However, the US has never openly admitted to nor acknowledged its use of cyberwarfare before. Cyber attacks have also never played such a critical role in an ongoing military campaign.
The goal of these cyber attacks is to disrupt the command and control of ISIS and to make it lose confidence in the security and stability of its networks. This will in turn make it more difficult for them to communicate and command their forces on the ground.
The US military has an advantage in Iraq because it helped set up most of the country's telecommunications networks during the reconstruction that took place after the Iraq war. The NSA has repeatedly used that advantage while collecting intelligence against the insurgency there.
The Department of Defense also has the ability to attack wireless networks from the air which affects radio, cellular, and wireless internet communications. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter did not disclose any details of the attack in order to hide the range and scope of US cyber operations.
The goal is to leave ISIS confused as to whether their networks are malfunctioning or being attacked.