- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2014

The Pentagon has begun flying armed drones over Iraq to provide protection to U.S. troops on the ground while they assess the capabilities of the Iraqi army, which is currently engaged in a land war with armed Sunni militants.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters Friday that the armed drones were necessary during the ongoing intelligence gathering mission because “some military advisers will operate outside the confines of the embassy.”

The presence of armed drones over Iraq marks an uptick in the tension surrounding a hostile takeover of portions of the country by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The Sunni militant group has so far taken over portions of northern Iraq, including its second largest city, Mosul.

This week, the Pentagon established in Baghdad the first of two command centers to serve as a base of operations for those teams of 12 to 15 U.S. military personnel who will go out into the field to conduct the assessment. Part of their mission is to supply President Obama with options for assisting the Iraqi government in their effort to battle back the violent group and retain their sovereignty.

The assessment will take two to three weeks, said Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren.

The Times reported in early June that the Pentagon has been flying drones over Iraq for the past several months at the request of the Iraqi government. Defense Department officials said the drones were initially unarmed and flying intermittently over the country. But by mid-June, the rate had increased to keep up with the intelligence-gathering demand of the Iraqi government.

The types and numbers of drones remain unknown. Before the U.S. military uses the drones for offensive strikes against the Sunni militant group, it would have to first obtain approval from Mr. Obama, according to CNN.