U.S. upping drone missions in Iraq to combat insurgency

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The Pentagon is increasing the number of missions U.S. drones are flying over Iraq to at least once a day in response to this week’s surge in the nation by al Qaeda-inspired Sunni extremists, a senior Defense Department official said Friday.

At the request of the Iraqi government, which is worried about gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon has altered the flying pattern of the American drones, said the official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity due to the classified nature of the drone program.

“For the last several months, we have been flying what I would call ‘intermittently,’” the official said. “I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think a few times per month we have been conducting [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights]. Now, as of yesterday, we have begun increasing the frequency and the duration of the flights.”

The Washington Times reported Thursday that the U.S. military conducted some high-tech drones flights over Iraq since December. The drones are unarmed, according to the official who spoke on Friday.

The official declined to offer specific details about types and how many of the unmanned aircraft were being used in the current operation.

At this time, the Pentagon does not have plans to add additional drones to the mix, the official said. The Defense Department is, however, contemplating replacing the drones that are currently collecting information with drones that have different abilities, according to the official.

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