US Airstrike Kills 5 Militants Preparing to Launch Drone Attack in Iraq: CENTCOM

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
December 4, 2023Middle East
US Airstrike Kills 5 Militants Preparing to Launch Drone Attack in Iraq: CENTCOM
An MQ-9 Reaper takes off at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada, on Aug. 8, 2007. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The U.S. military conducted a drone strike on Sunday, Dec. 3, killing five suspected militants near Kirkuk in what the U.S. side described as a “self-defense” strike.

In a Monday press release, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said forces assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) identified the suspected militants preparing to launch their own one-way attack drone. CJTF-OIR forces responded by directing an unspecified armed unmanned aerial system to the scene, delivering strikes that killed the suspected militants and destroyed their one-way attack drone.

CENTCOM said Iraqi Security Forces were notified of the strike and responded to the scene, where they subsequently “confirmed the death of the militants and the destruction of the drone.”

U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria have come under attack by rockets and one-way drones on dozens of occasions since Oct. 17. This pattern of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria also coincides with ongoing fighting in southern Israel between the Israeli military and the Hamas terrorist group, which began on Oct. 7 when Hamas gunmen breached the Israel–Gaza barrier and proceeded to massacre Israelis.

The U.S. side has at times attributed the attacks on troops in Iraq and Syria to various Iran-linked militant factions, which may be seeking to expand the ongoing conflict in Israel into a larger regional conflict.

CENTCOM did not specify the affiliations of the five suspected militants killed in the U.S. drone strike on Sunday. Social media profiles affiliated with the Islamic Resistance in Iraq did however express condolences on Monday for several “martyrs” killed in a U.S. strike on Sunday, and identified those individuals as members of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is an umbrella term encapsulating a variety of Iran-linked Iraqi militia factions that have claimed credit for rocket and drone attacks targeting U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 17.

The U.S. drone strike on Sunday represents at least the third occasion since Oct. 17, in which the U.S. side has conducted strikes on militants believed to be targeting U.S. forces in Iraq. The first such U.S. strike in Iraq came when a U.S. AC-130 gunship responded to a missile attack against the Ain Al-Asad Airbase on Nov. 21. U.S. forces conducted another pair of strikes in Iraq the following day.

U.S. forces have also carried out strikes on suspected Iran-linked facilities in Syria on Oct. 26, Nov. 8, and Nov. 12.

“The United States will continue to defend U.S. and coalition personnel from attacks,” CENTCOM’s Monday press statement reads.

CENTCOM is the command responsible for U.S. military operations throughout the Middle East.

CJTF-OIR is the subordinate CENTCOM component responsible for countering ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Around 900 U.S. troops were deployed in Syria, and 2,500 were deployed in Iraq prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. The U.S. military has ordered thousands of additional troops to various locations throughout the region following the outbreak of the new Israel–Hamas conflict.

U.S. forces and military assets have come under attack in other parts of the region in recent weeks.

A U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone was shot down off the coast of Yemen on Nov. 8 by the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite rebel movement that has fought on and off with the internationally recognized Yemeni government since 2004 and which the U.S. State Department has linked with Iran. The Houthis have launched several drone and missile attacks targeting Israel since Oct. 7, in solidarity with Hamas.

U.S. warships have shot down drones piloted from Houthi-controlled regions of Yemen.

The Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer USS Carney responded to distress calls stemming from four separate missile attacks on three different commercial vessels sailing near Yemen on Sunday alone. The U.S. warship shot down drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen two separate times while responding to consecutive missile attacks targeting the Bahama-flagged M/V Unity Explorer.

A Houthi military official, Yahya Saree, described the commercial vessels targeted in the Sunday attacks as Israeli ships and said Houthi forces will continue to target Israel-linked merchant ships in the Red and Arab Seas “until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops.”

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