Iran-backed militias in Iraq are turning to small drones rather than using rockets to stage attacks, alarming U.S. military officials because the devices fly too low to be detected by defense systems.
The evolving threat is the military's biggest concern in Iraq at this point, The Washington Post reported.
A drone strike in April targeted a CIA hanger located in the airport in Iraq's northern city of Irbil, according to sources said to be familiar to the situation. The drone's path was lost after the device was tracked to within 10 miles of its target, a coalition official said.
After the remains of the drone were partially recovered, a preliminary analysis suggested it had been made in Iraq and the attack concerned White House and Pentagon officials both because of the CIA facility's covert nature and because of how the strike had been carried out.
There were no injuries or deaths in the strike, but the incident prompted deliberations about a response, including some officials, including National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk, advocating a military response, said two sources, but the Biden administration eventually decided not to take military action
Coalition commanders were also concerned after a similar drone attack in May on the Ain al-Asad airbase.
"The damage wasn’t huge but the coalition was very upset. They told our commanders that it was a major escalation," an Iraqi soldier stationed at Ain al-Asad commented, speaking anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
Ain al-Asad is the same airbase that Iran attacked with ballistic missiles in January 2020 after the United States assassinated Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
Meanwhile, American service members and Iraqi security personnel, and civilians have been killed by Iran-backed militia rocket attacks, which has prompted retaliatory action from the United States, nearly causing conflict between the U.S. and Iran on Iraqi soil.
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