US ramps up drone surveillance over Iraq to fill intelligence gaps

By David Usborne

An Iraqi family leave their hometown Mosul, walking towards Irbil. Photo / AP
An Iraqi family leave their hometown Mosul, walking towards Irbil. Photo / AP

The United States is rapidly stepping up surveillance activity over and inside the contested areas of Iraq, even as officials try to analyse whether a broad failure of intelligence over recent months and even years was partly responsible for Washington being caught off guard by the Isis advance across the country.

The new effort, which includes flying between 30 and 35 drone flights daily, some of them armed with air-to-surface missiles, is aimed both at assessing the strength of the Isis forces on the ground and also identifying targets for possible future missile strikes against them by the US. In addition, about 200 of the 300 special advisers ordered to Iraq 10 days ago by President Barack Obama are believed to be on the ground now.

Obama says he's sending up to 200 more US combat-equipped troops with surveillance gear and helicopters to protect the US Embassy in Baghdad. With a 275-strong embassy protection force already sent and the 300 US special forces charged with advising the Iraqi army, the deployment will mean nearly 800 US soldiers will be in Iraq.

Filling in evident gaps in intelligence, some as a result of the final pull-out of US troops in 2011, is now an urgent priority and will become only more so after Isis' declaration of a caliphate.

- Independent, AFP

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