Military pilots attacked with laser beams 350 times in last 7 months: report

Military pilots attacked with laser beams 350 times in last 7 months: report
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U.S. military pilots flying in the Middle East are facing laser pointer attacks at a rate higher than the Pentagon has previously acknowledged, according to a report.

Officials at U.S. Air Forces Central Command in Qatar told The Wall Street Journal that military pilots in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have reported 350 attacks in the first seven months of 2018, a sharp increase from 400 attacks overall in 2017.

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Such attacks had been declining in recent years, officials said, but are on the rise in 2018 and are linked to terrorist groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda.

The attacks are typically aimed at pilots during landing procedures in an attempt to cause an crash, officials say, though no crashes due to laser attacks have occurred thus far. The potency of the lasers ranged from hand-held laser pointers to military-grade lasers, according to the Journal.

“Lasing attacks are dangerous and have the potential to confuse, temporarily interfere with the vision of our aircrew, or to permanently damage the eyesight of our service members,” a spokesman for U.S. Central Command told the Journal.

“It is exceedingly difficult to pinpoint the origin of a short laser engagement, so we can’t definitively source most laser attacks,” the spokesman said. “We assess that many likely come from insurgents and terrorist organizations like [Islamic State], al Qaeda and others.”

The number of attacks in the region is still far lower than the number of amateur attacks that occur aimed at commercial pilots every year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

FAA reports indicate that 2,800 lasing incidents took place between January 2018 and June 2018, while about 2,700 occurred during the same period last year.