Citing US-led coalition officials, The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the Iraqi resistance groups had over the past months turned to the use of highly sophisticated drones against American forces and US diplomatic missions in the country.
A coalition official described the evolving drone threat as the military mission’s biggest concern in Iraq. Instead of using rockets, the daily said, the resistance groups are increasingly using “small, fixed-wing drones that fly too low to be picked up by defensive systems.”
Referring to two drone attacks against American bases in Iraq in April and May, the Post said the drone threat had raised the prospect of a sudden escalation of violence, with each fresh attack triggering a flurry of communication among US officials whether any Americans had been killed or injured.
“The death of an American is their red line,” an unnamed Western official was quoted as saying. “The first question the Americans always ask is: what was the casualty’s nationality?”
Iraq’s anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as Hashd al-Sha’abi, staged a drone attack on an airbase housing US forces and warplanes north of the capital Baghdad in May.
The resistance group said the attack had targeted the al-Balad Airbase that lies 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital
The airbase had come under another attack a week earlier, which, according to Americans, wounded “two Iraqi forces,” but did not afflict any casualties on US troops.
In a similar drone strike in April, the Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq’s western province of Anbar housing American troops came under attack, in which a hangar for US military aircraft was completely damaged.
The head of US Central Command, Marine General Frank McKenzie, was cited by the Post as saying that efforts were underway to develop better defenses against the Iraqi drones.
McKenzie told reporters last week that US military officials were looking for ways to cut command-and-control links between a drone and its operator, improve radar sensors to quickly identify the threat as it approached, and find effective ways to bring the aircraft down.
“We’re open to all kinds of things,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “Still, I don’t think we’re where we want to be.”
Following the April drone attack on Ain al-Asad, the White House announced the formation of a working group “on the growing threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [UAVs] and Precision Guided Missiles,” accusing neighboring Iran of providing them to resistance groups in Iraq and the Middle East region.
Ain al-Asad has been targeted several times since Iran launched a barrage of missiles at the base on January 8, 2020, as part of its retaliation for the US assassination of top anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Attacks on American military interests in Iraq have risen in number and frequency since early last year, when a US drone strike martyred General Soleimani and senior Iraqi counter-terrorism commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in Baghdad.
Both men enjoyed huge reverence for their contribution to the regional anti-terror fight, with General Soleimani winning fame as the region’s most decisive and popular counter-terrorism commander.
Just days after the brazen assassinations, Iraqi lawmakers unanimously passed a bill mandating the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq.
Last month, Iraq and the US said they had agreed on the eventual withdrawal of US “combat” troops from Iraq, and that the two sides would hold talks to work out the timing.
Iraqi resistance groups have warned that they will treat the American troops as occupying forces, pledging to take up arms against them if they refuse to leave their country.