U.S. armed drones are now flying over Iraq, a Pentagon official announced Thursday, according to numerous media reports.
Equipped with Hellfire missiles, the predator drones are being deployed from a base in Kuwait to accompany unarmed surveillance flights that include drones as well as manned aircraft. The armed drones will also supplement U.S. military "advisers" on the ground, the official stated.
Meanwhile, the United States has opened a "joint operations center" in Baghdad, boosting the total number of U.S. service members to 500, Pentagon officials revealed in a statement released Thursday.
And according to a New York Times article published Wednesday, two Iraqi advisers to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the U.S. is planning to send more than 1,000 U.S. private security guards to Iraq to protect U.S. troops. This amounts to "far more Americans than previously acknowledged," the Times notes.
The Pentagon's announcement of drone flights come amid reports that Iran is also sending surveillance drones to Iraq.
Middle East scholar Juan Cole warned earlier this month that the Obama administration's deployment of special forces military "advisers" to Iraq for intelligence-gathering and other purposes suggest that "Obama is likely paving the way to US drone strikes on ISIS in Iraq."