Situation Report: Commander of US CENTCOM explains Iran’s growing drone threat in Iraq

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On June 7, the Commander of the U.S. Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie joined a virtual briefing with the U.S. Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub to discuss a myriad of national security threats, including Russia, China, ISIS and Iran. Among these threats are small unmanned aerial systems, or drones. The Commander described how Iran and its proxies in Iraq have turned to drone-use in a dangerous and potentially lethal escalation in the region.

Since April, Iranian proxies in Iraq have used explosive-laden drones in attacks targeting U.S. assets and personnel in Iraq. On June 6, two drones were launched above Ain al-Asad airbase, which houses U.S. troops. The U.S. military’s C-RAM defense system shot down the two drones. Shortly after, a Katyusha rocket was also shot down by the military’s C-RAM system above Baghdad airport.

Iran’s militias began excessively launching attacks targeting U.S. military and diplomatic sites in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone after the January 2020 U.S.-directed killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The militias relied on Katyusha rockets to carry out those attacks and vowed to maintain their assaults if the Iraqi government did not expel U.S. troops from the country.

In the latest round of U.S.-Iraq strategic dialogue discussions, no timetable was presented regarding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Since then, Iranian proxies have turned to more sophisticated and lethal weaponry, including armed drones, to carry out its latest attacks in Iraq.

General McKenzie noted that “they (Iranian militias) are resorting to this technique (drones) because they have been unable to force the Government of Iraq to require that we leave. So, political pressure has not worked for them; now they’re turning to a kinetic approach. And that is very concerning.”

A similar pattern is playing out in the Yemen, where civil war has plagued the country since 2014, when Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents seized control of Yemen’s capital city. After years of war, Saudi Arabia proposed a peace plan for Yemen that has yet to be accepted by the Houthi rebels. Despite international pressure to end the conflict, the Houthis have continued its offensive in the Marib province in Yemen. Like its proxies in Iraq, Iran’s Houthis in Saudi Arabia have turned to drones, in addition to cruise missiles and land attack cruise missiles to launch its attacks.

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