A US official confirmed that Iranian jets are bombing targets of Islamic State group in Iraq, although the operation is not part of the ongoing United States-led coalition effort to help local militias defeat the jihadist extremists.
The admission came a day after the emergence of video footage that appeared to show an Iranian fighter jet striking targets in northern Iraq.
“We are aware of that,” the official told the Huffington Post on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily concerned with it — we kind of have our eyes on it.”
On November 30 Al-Jazeera published the grainy video, which showed what looked to be an F-4 Phantom jet on a bombing run near the town of Sa’adiya near the Iran-Iraq border. The video was later taken down.
The clip generated speculation among military pundits as to which air force the plane was from, as only two countries in the region still operate Phantom jets — Turkey and Iran.
Turkey has been reluctant to provide direct military support for the coalition against IS, even though the jihadists, who have conquered large areas of Iraq and Syria, have also been attacking towns in the Syrian-Turkish border region.
That left only Iran as the source of the jet, a speculation heightened by the location of the incident, so close to the Iranian border. The airstrike seemed to be in support of a joint operation by Iraqi military and Kurdish peshmerga forces to retake the towns of Sa’adiya and Jawlala on November 25 near the Iranian border. It was Iraq’s largest offensive against the terrorist group since June.
American-made F-4 Phantom aircraft have been in use in Iran since the 1960s, having been purchased from the US government by the Shah regime before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The US Air Force decommissioned its Phantoms in the 1990s, as did the Israeli Air Force in 2004.
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly identified the plane as most likely being Iranian and noted that recent weeks have seen increasing evidence of Iranian military equipment in the hands of Iraqi units.
The US official told the Huffington Post that the bombing took place in an area where coalition forces are not active, and that there were thus no expectations of any interaction between Iranian and allied aircraft.
In November The Wall Street Journal reported details of a letter sent by US President Barack Obama to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which the president suggested working together against the Islamic State terror group in exchange for a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.
The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful civilian energy program.
In September, Khamenei claimed he had rejected a private approach from the United States suggesting cooperation on the battlefield.
US officials have neither confirmed nor denied making a request in private, but US Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time that there was a role for Iran in the battle against the Islamic State.