US shoots down Iranian-made spy drone over patrol base in northeast Syria

CENTCOM says UAV conducting reconnaissance above site, which was struck last month in rocket attack attributed to pro-Iranian groups

US forces shoot down an Iranian-made drone above Mission Support Site Conoco in northeast Syria, February 14, 2023. (Courtesy of CENTCOM)
US forces shoot down an Iranian-made drone above Mission Support Site Conoco in northeast Syria, February 14, 2023. (Courtesy of CENTCOM)

United States forces in Syria shot down an Iranian-manufactured drone as it attempted to gather intelligence over a base in northeast Syria, the United States military’s Central Command said in a statement Monday.

CENTCOM said the drone was “attempting to conduct reconnaissance of Mission Support Site Conoco,” a patrol base where US counterterrorism forces are stationed alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces to help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State terror group and to counter Iranian influence in the region.

US forces are occasionally targeted by pro-Iranian groups in Syria, and it is not the first time the Conoco site has been fired on. In January, two rockets were fired toward the base but did not cause any damage or casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor of unclear funding, accused pro-Iranian groups of that attack a day after Iranians marked the third anniversary of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in a US drone strike.

Western powers are increasingly concerned about Iran’s drone program, particularly with regard to the supply of “kamikaze” drones to Russia for use in their war against Ukraine.

The United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper on Tuesday cited analysts at the US Defense Intelligence Agency who said they had tracked Iran’s transition from a regional drone supplier limited to the Middle East, to becoming “Moscow’s most significant military backer.”

According to Tuesday’s report, US officials believe Tehran is rapidly improving the effectiveness of its drones through real-world use in Ukraine.

Last month, there was a significant drone attack on a key Iranian defense facility in the city of Isfahan. The site hit in the strike was reportedly a weapons production facility for Iran’s killer Shahed-136 drones, which have been used by Russia in Ukraine.

The attack was one of a number widely attributed to Israel, which has a policy of not commenting on such operations.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said on Friday it had arrested the “main actors” involved in the attack.

Ash Obel contributed to this report.

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