The US scrambled an F-15 jet to shoot down an Iranian drone that appeared to be heading towards US forces in Erbil, Iraq, on Wednesday, a US official told CNN.
US forces launched the jet after tracking dozens of Iranian short range ballistic missiles headed for Kurdish positions in northern Iraq Wednesday, according to two other US officials. The initial assessment is the launches originated inside Iran, the officials said.
“This was a significant incident,” one of the officials said.
“At approximately 2:10 PM local time, U.S. forces brought down an Iranian Mojer-6 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle headed in the direction of Erbil as it appeared as a threat to USCENTCOM forces in the area,” US Central Command, which oversees the US military presence in the Middle East, said in a statement.
Earlier Wednesday, nine people were killed, including civilians, after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps targeted Kurdish separatist groups in northern Iraq, Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] Health Minister Saman Barzanji told CNN.
The IRGC used missiles and drones to target the offices of Kurdish groups, designated by Iran as terrorist organizations, Iranian state-aligned news Tasnim said quoting the IRGC.
US Central Command condemned the “unprovoked attack” from the IRGC in Iraq.
“Such indiscriminate attacks threaten innocent lives and risk the hard-fought stability of the region,” Senior US Central Command Spokesperson Col. Joe Buccino said in the statement.
No US forces were wounded or killed as a result of the IRGC strikes, and there was no damage to US equipment, US Central Command said.
Iran has targeted militants based in Iraq’s Kurdish region in the past, but attacks have increased since the weekend. Tehran is accusing Kurdish groups of destabilizing the country by supporting protesters who have demonstrated against Iranian authorities following the death of Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini, according to Fars, a government aligned news agency.
Both US officials emphasized, at this point, the belief is the Iranians were seeking to harm Kurdish forces to potentially divert attention from the current protests in Iran. Protests have raged in western parts of Iran, home to many Kurds angered by the death of Amini.
The launch of such a large number of ballistic missiles does raise concerns about long term Iranian intentions and potential escalation, the officials said.