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US prepares for drone strikes against Middle East targets

A Patriot missile launch. (Photo: U.S. Army)

A Patriot missile launch.
(Photo: U.S. Army)

U.S. forces and air-defense missile batteries across the Middle East were placed on high alert Jan. 7 in preparation for possible Iranian drone attacks, reports CNN, including all Patriot batteries and forces in the area.

U.S. officials told CNN that intelligence mounted about a threat of an imminent attack against U.S. targets in the wake of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. U.S. intelligence also observed Iran moving military equipment, including drones and ballistic missiles, over the last several days.

The movement may be an Iranian effort to secure its weapons from a potential U.S. strike, or put them in positions to launch their own attacks.

Iran has put missiles on its drones that have been used in other attacks, including a significant attack on Saudi oil installations last year (see below).

Targets of concern are U.S. locations in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

2019 Drone Tensions

Drones forces from both sides targeted assets in 2019. In June, Iran shot down a U.S. military drone that it claimed was an intruding American spy drone entering its territory. The U.S. said the drone was shot down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

In July, U.S. Marines jammed and destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz from aboard the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, because the drone has closed too close, to approximately 1,000 yards. Iran denied losing any of its drones.

In September, Iran was blamed for an attack on the Saudi oil industry, with drones and cruise missiles assumed launched from an Iranian base in Iran close to the border with Iraq. The Abqaiq oil plant was struck by more than a dozen projectiles.

Maritime Alert

On Monday, the U.S. Maritime Administration issued an alert to commercial vessels operating in the Middle East, citing multiple maritime threats and stating “there remains the possibility of Iranian action against U.S. maritime interests in the region.”

According to the alert, “The U.S. government is continually assessing the maritime security situation in the region to safeguard freedom of navigation, ensure the free flow of commerce, and protect U.S. vessels, personnel, and interests.

“U.S. Fifth Fleet Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) has the latest information on the dynamic maritime security threats and operational environment in this region. U.S. commercial vessels are advised to exercise caution and coordinate vessel voyage planning for transits of the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Red Sea with NCAGS and follow NCAGS’s recommendations and guidance whenever possible.”

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