The U.S. military carried out two more rounds of airstrikes in northern Iraq on Friday, as it continued its effort to beat back Islamic State militants near the city of Irbil. And unlike the first strike, one of the most recent pair was carried out by an aerial drone.
Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the latest strikes occurred at 10 a.m. and 11:20 a.m. EST. In the 10 a.m. strike, an MQ-1 Predator drone armed with Hellfire missiles struck a militant mortar position, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday afternoon. When the militants returned to the site a few minutes later, they were attacked again and killed, officials said.
The drone attack marks a departure for the U.S. military, which had said previously that drones were flying missions over Iraq only to collect intelligence. The Pentagon acknowledged in June that some of the drones were armed to provide protection for U.S. troops it had added on the ground, but it had not announced a drone strike before Friday.
The other two U.S. airstrikes the Pentagon has acknowledged in Iraq on Friday were carried out by F/A-18 fighter jets flying off the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier operating in the Persian Gulf. The first strike, announced Friday morning, was launched about 6:45 a.m. EST by two F/A-18F Super Hornets with Carrier Air Wing 8, of Naval Air Station Oceana, Va.
The second Super Hornet strike occurred about 11:20 a.m., Kirby said Friday. Four F/A-18 fighter jets successfully struck a stationary militant convoy of seven vehicles and a mortar position near Irbil, he added.
“The aircraft executed two planned passes,” he said. “On both runs, each aircraft dropped one laser guided bomb making a total of eight bombs dropped on target neutralizing the mortar and convoy.”
A senior defense official said Friday afternoon that the Navy has used GBU-54 bombs in the airstrikes. The acronym stands for “guided bomb unit,” while the number identifies it in the military. They are 500-pound laser-guided Joint Defense Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, officials said. As pointed out on Checkpoint this morning, the pilots have the ability to set up laser guidance on their own, or with the help of another fighter pilot nearby.
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