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U.S. airdrops in Iraq hit their target 63 of 72 times, Pentagon says

A bundle of supplies floats to the ground after being dropped from the back of a C-130 Hercules aircraft over Afghanistan in August 2006. The U.S. military has used GPS coordinates for years when dropping supplies from the sky, with varying degrees of success. (Photo by Senior Airman Brian Ferguson/ U.S. Air Force)

Initial reports suggest that about 80 percent of the food and water the U.S. military delivered by air to Iraqi civilians on Thursday reached their target, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday, raising the prospect of more deliveries in coming days.

Hagel told reporters traveling with him in India that the Pentagon had “pretty solid information” that of the 72 bundles dropped by aircraft on Mount Sinjar, in northern Iraq, “more than 60 got to those who we wanted it to get to and the people who were trapped up there.” A U.S. defense official added Friday afternoon that 63 of the 72 pallets reached their target.

“We have intelligence reports on that as well as some on-the-ground reports,” Hagel said, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon.

The Pentagon said Thursday night that one C-17 and two C-130 cargo planes dropped 72 bundles of supplies near Sinjar. They included 5,300 gallons of water and 8,000 prepackaged meals, senior U.S. officials said. They left open the possibility of more air drops, something that appears possible, considering that human rights workers have estimated that up to 40,000 civilians may be trapped on the mountain, unable to return their homes for fear of being killed by militants.

The Pentagon did not provide more specifics about the airdrops, including what happened to the 12 pallets that missed their mark. However, it’s all but certain that the supplies were dropped using GPS devices that the U.S. military has used for years. One of the most common systems is known as the Joint Precision Airdrop System, which uses a GPS unit, a parachute and electric motors to guide deliveries toward their target as they fall, defense officials say.

Here’s a video demonstrating it in action over Afghanistan in 2011 in a C-17:

The military was still buying new JPADS systems earlier this year, including as part of a $30 million contract to provide the Army with 110 of them. They have been widely used in Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Aug. 8, 4:50 p.m.: This piece was updated to reflect numbers provided by the Pentagon on Friday afternoon in terms of the number of pallets that reached their target.

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