The US-occupied Ayn al-Asad air base in Iraq was devastated by Iranian retaliatory missile strikes in January 2020 following American terrorist assassination of Irans top anti-terror commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani. (Photo by NYT)
US military authorities have reportedly expressed growing fears of a "rapidly evolving" threat in Iraq against some of the most secretive American installations being targeted by local militia forces "specialized in operating more sophisticated weaponry" -- such as armed drones - that evade US defenses.
"At least three times in the past two months, those militias have used small, explosive-laden drones that divebomb and crash into their targets in late-night attacks on [US-occupied] Iraqi bases - including those used by the CIA and US Special Operations units," New York Times reported Saturday citing unidentified American officials.
While the US has installed defenses to counter rocket, artillery and mortar systems at its multiple military facilities across Iraq, "the armed drones fly too low to be detected by those defenses," the daily pointed out citing the officials.
Citing three American officials familiar with the matter, the daily further pointed to a drone strike shortly before midnight on April 14 that "targeted a CIA hangar inside the airport complex in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil," referring to the notorious US spy agency widely known for running covert operations across the globe to meddle in internal affairs of other nations.
Though no one was reported hurt in the drone strike, "it alarmed Pentagon and White House officials because of the covert nature of the facility and the sophistication of the strike," details of which were previously reported by another influential US daily, The Washington Post.
An identical drone attack on May 8 striking the expansive Ayn al-Asad military base - hosting American forces in western Anbar Province where they also operate Reaper drones - further sparked concerns among US commanders about the shifting tactics of the Iraqi militia forces fiercely opposing the American military presence in their country following the Washington-ordered terror assassination of visiting top Iranian commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani and other Iranian and Iraqi officers near Baghdad airport in January 2020.
The attack caused no injuries but damaged an aircraft hangar, according to a spokesman for the US-led military coalition in Iraq, Col. Wayne Marotto, as cited in the report.
The daily then pointed to yet another drone attack just three days later that struck a US air base in northern Erbil "that is used by the militarys highly secretive Joint Special Operations Command," noting that the explosive-laden drone crashed but caused no injuries or damage. However, the incident fueled the growing worries among US military authorities.
"The drones are a big deal, one of the most significant threats our troops there face," said former CIA officer and top Middle East policy official at the Pentagon, Michael Mulroy, as quoted in the report, attributing the sophistication of the drone strikes to the technology obtained from Iran - a common claim made by US officials and mainstream media outlets.
The development came after the top US commander in the Middle East, Gen. Frank McKenzie reiterated during a secretive visit to Iraq and Syria last month that the drones targeting American forces in the region pose a serious threat and that the Pentagon was rushing to develop means to combat them.
The chief of US militarys Central Command (CENTCOM) further emphasized that Defense Department officials were developing ways to disrupt or disable communications between the drones and their operators, bolster radar sensors to identify approaching threats more rapidly, and find effective ways to down the unmanned aircraft.
Since late 2019, Iraqis have carried out more than 300 attacks against US interests and military installations in the country, "killing four Americans and about 25 others," according to a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment in April cited in the report.
"The increased precision of the drone strikes this year marks an escalation from the more common Katyusha rocket attacks that US officials have viewed more as harassment," the report added.
It further cited "some American analysts" as highlighting the emerging trend of Iraqi fighters "now targeting sites, even specific aircraft hangars, where sophisticated armed MQ-9 Reaper drones and contractor-operated turboprop surveillance aircraft are stationed in an attempt to disrupt or cripple the US reconnaissance capability critical to monitoring threats in Iraq."
The US military has used Reapers for its most sensitive strikes, including the terrorist attack that killed Irans Gen. Soleimani and senior Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Two days after the American terror assassination, Iraqi parliament passed a resolution on January 5, 2020 calling on the government to implement the expulsion of all US-led forces in the country.
Baghdad and Washington have in recent months held several rounds of strategic talks on the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
All resistance factions within the war-torn nation agreed in October 2020 to suspend attacks on US occupation forces provided that the government presents a timetable for their withdrawal.