The United States is quietly rushing dozens of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq to target al-Qaeda-backed insurgency in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria, reports claimed.
The new lethal aid from the United States includes a shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles, delivered to Iraq last week. The weapons are strapped beneath the wings of small Cessna turboprop planes, and fired at militant camps with the CIA secretly providing targeting assistance, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
In addition, 10 ScanEagle reconnaissance drones (photo) are expected to be delivered to Iraq by March. They are smaller cousins of the larger, more capable Predators that used to fly over Iraq.
American intelligence and counterterrorism officials say they have effectively mapped the locations and origins of the Qaeda network in Iraq and are sharing this information with the Iraqis.
The move follows an appeal for help in battling the extremist group by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who met with President Barack Obama in Washington last month.
But some military experts question whether the patchwork response will be sufficient to reverse the sharp downturn in security that already led to the deaths of more than 8,000 Iraqis this year, 952 of them Iraqi security force members, according to the United Nations, the highest level of violence since 2008.
Al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq. Riding in armed convoys, the group has intimidated towns, assassinated local officials, and in an episode last week, used suicide bombers and hidden explosives to kill the Commander of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Division and more than a dozen of his officers and soldiers as they raided al-Qaeda training camp near Rutbah.
Bombings on Christmas in Christian areas of Baghdad, which killed more than two dozen people, bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda operation.