Official: Armed drones guard US interests in Iraq

PAULINE JELINEK
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FILE - This June 21, 2007 file photo show a MQ-4 Predator controlled by the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron stands on the tarmac at Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, Iraq. A Pentagon official says the U.S. has started flying armed drones over Baghdad to protect U.S. civilians and military forces in the Iraqi capital. The official said the flights started in the last 24 to 48 hours to bolster manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights the military has been sending over violence-wracked Iraq in recent weeks. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the new flights on the record. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has started flying armed drones over Baghdad to protect U.S. civilians and military forces in the Iraqi capital, a Pentagon official said Friday.

A handful of Predators armed with Hellfire missiles are being used for the mission, the senior defense official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the new flights on the record.

They are to bolster reconnaissance flights by manned and unmanned aircraft that have been making a few dozen outings daily over violence-wracked Iraq in recent weeks, the official said.

He stressed that the armed drones are to provide protection of U.S. interests and that President Barack Obama still has not authorized airstrikes against Sunni militants who have been overrunning territory in other parts of the country.

The Pentagon said Thursday that four teams of Army special forces had arrived in Baghdad, bringing the number of American troops there to 90 out of the 300 promised by Obama. The Americans will advise and assist Iraqi counterterrorism forces.