Islamic State's deadly drone operation is faltering, but U.S. commanders see broader danger ahead

Los Angeles Times

U.S. airstrikes across eastern Syria have hobbled Islamic State's deadly drone program, U.S. officials say, but commanders warn that proliferation of the inexpensive technology may allow terrorist groups to launch other aerial attacks around the globe. U.S.-backed fighters have reported small drones flown by the militants seven times this month in Iraq and Syria as Islamic State struggles to maintain the crumbling borders of its self-declared caliphate, according to the U.S. military task force in Baghdad. That's down from more than 60 drone sightings earlier this year, especially during the battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul, which was liberated in early July. Dozens of Iraqis were killed or wounded by 40-millimeter grenades and light explosives dropped from remote-controlled devices that one U.S. commander likened to killer bees. The use of camera-equipped quadcopters and model-plane-sized drones, sometimes flying in swarms, had become a signature tactic of Islamic State, much as the growing U.S. fleet of large missile firing Predator and Reaper drones have changed the face of modern warfare.


In UAE, Trump's adviser warns Iran of 'very strong response' to any attack

The Japan Times

ABU DHABI - President Donald Trump's national security adviser warned Iran on Wednesday that any attacks in the Persian Gulf will draw a "very strong response" from the U.S., taking a hard-line approach with Tehran after his boss only two days earlier said America wasn't "looking to hurt Iran at all." John Bolton's comments are the latest amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran that have been playing out in the Middle East. Bolton spoke to journalists in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which only days earlier saw former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warn there that "unilateralism will not work" in confronting the Islamic Republic. The dueling approaches highlight the divide over Iran within American politics. The U.S. has accused Tehran of being behind a string of incidents this month, including the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the Emirati coast, a rocket strike near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemen's Iran-allied Houthi rebels. On Wednesday, Bolton told journalists that there had been a previously unknown attempt to attack the Saudi oil port of Yanbu as well, which he also blamed on Iran.


Trump says hard to believe Iran intentionally downed U.S. drone as Chuck Schumer fears he may 'bumble' into war

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON/DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - U.S. President Donald Trump played down Iran's downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone on Thursday, saying he suspected it was shot by mistake and "it would have made a big difference" to him had the remotely controlled aircraft been piloted. While the comments appeared to suggest Trump was not eager to escalate the latest in a series of incidents with Iran, he also warned: "This country will not stand for it." Tehran said the unarmed Global Hawk surveillance drone was on a spy mission over its territory, but Washington said it was shot down over international airspace. "I think probably Iran made a mistake -- I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down," Trump told reporters at the White House. "We had nobody in the drone. It would have made a big difference, let me tell you, it would have made a big, big difference" if the aircraft had been piloted, Trump said as he met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office.


Drone war takes flight, raising stakes in Iran-U.S. tensions as Israel wades in

The Japan Times

NEW YORK – From the vast deserts of Saudi Arabia to the crowded neighborhoods of Beirut, a drone war has taken flight across the wider Middle East, raising the stakes in the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. In the year since President Donald Trump withdrew America from Iran's nuclear deal, there's been an increasing tempo of attacks and alleged threats from unmanned aircraft flown by Tehran's and Washington's allies in the region. The appeal of the aircraft -- they risk no pilots and can be small enough to evade air-defense systems -- fueled their rapid use amid the maximum pressure campaigns of Iran and the U.S. As these strikes become more frequent, the risk of unwanted escalation becomes greater. The U.S. military nearly launched airstrikes against Iran after a U.S. military surveillance drone was shot down in June. Meanwhile, Israeli fighter jets attack targets in Syria on an almost weekly basis, including on Saturday night.


U.S. accuses Iran in drone attack on Saudi Aramco plants

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday accused Iran of leading attacks on Saudi oil plants that cut the kingdom's output roughly in half, ruling out Yemeni involvement and denouncing Tehran for false diplomacy. Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed credit for Saturday's attacks on two plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry, including the world's biggest petroleum processing facility. Pompeo, however, said on Twitter that there was no evidence the attacks came from Yemen. "Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy," Pompeo said, referring to Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif. "Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply," he added.