The U.S. military downed three drones on Wednesday local time during separate attempted attacks against American forces in Iraq, according to U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM.
U.S. forces destroyed one drone and damaged another during an attack in western Iraq which ended in coalition forces receiving “minor injuries,” according to a CENTCOM statement, which did not specify whether U.S. troops were wounded.
The U.S. military also destroyed a third drone in an attack in Northern Iraq, according to CENTCOM. No injuries were reported in that attack.
“In this moment of heightened alert, we are vigilantly monitoring the situation in Iraq and the region. U.S. forces will defend U.S. and Coalition forces against any threat,” the statement says.
The drones targeted U.S. troops at two bases more than 200 miles apart: Al Asad Air Base in Western Iraq and Al-Harir Air Base in Northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, a U.S. official confirmed.
Tashkil al-Waritheen, an Iranian-backed militia, claimed responsibility for the drone attack on Al-Harir Air Base, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Other groups backed by Iran said they were on high alert, but they had not received approval from Iran to launch attacks against U.S. forces in retaliation for American support for Israel.
Wednesday’s attacks indicate that the ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas – which is backed by Iran – could spill over into Middle Eastern countries where American troops operate.
U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Syria to help prevent the Islamic State organization from reconstituting itself and recapturing territory. But American service members in both countries have also been pulled into a proxy war with Iran, which supports several militias in the region including Kata’ib Hezbollah.
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In January 2020, a U.S. missile fired from a large drone in Baghdad killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was commander of Kata’ib Hezbollah at the time.
In response, Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq. Eleven of those missiles struck Al Asad Air Base on Jan. 8, 2020. Out of 110 U.S. service members who were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury from the attack, 29 soldiers were later awarded Purple Hearts.
The U.S. government has blamed Iranian-backed groups for drone attacks on American forces in Iraq and Syria, including a March 23 attack in Syria that killed an American contractor and wounded five U.S. troops.
That incident prompted the U.S. military to launch airstrikes against groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Eastern Syria.
Now that the United States has vowed its unconditional support to Israel following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have vowed to attack American forces in the country, the Associated Press reported.
“Our missiles, drones, and special forces are ready to direct qualitative strikes at the American enemy in its bases and disrupt its interests if it intervenes in this battle,” Ahmad “Abu Hussein” al-Hamidawi, head of Kata’ib Hezbollah, said in an Oct. 11 statement.
It is unclear whether Iran directly ordered one or both of Wednesday’s drone attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, but Iran is still complicit because it continues to provide militias that attack American forces with financial, political, and military support, said Nichols Carl, the Middle East Portfolio Manager at the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, D.C.
“Iran has provided many of its most trusted proxy and partner militias in Iraq with advanced drone capabilities, which may be what we are seeing used here,” Carl told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.
Iranian leaders have long said openly that one of their top goals is to expel all U.S. troops in the Middle East, Carl said. The American military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 reinforces these leaders’ belief that they can drive the United States out of the region by applying low levels of military pressure over time, gradually eroding America’s political will to keep troops in Iraq and Syria.
More recently, Iran has indicated that it will escalate attacks against the United States if it “intervenes” in Israel’s favor against Hamas, Carl said.
“It is unclear Iran and its regional allies define ‘intervene’ in this context, but Iranian media has been working in overdrive to put out disinformation over the past few days suggesting that the United States is more involved in the war than it actually is,” Carl said.
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