The continued spread of the jihadist terror group Islamic State has caused the United States to increase its supporting role with the Iraqi government in monitoring and combatting the group. According to the State Department, the U.S. is manning over 50 surveillance drone flights a day over the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
The increase in surveillance trips is astronomical– from about one flight a month to 50 flights a day over the capital. Reuters explains that the increase in surveillance trips represents an attempt to get the full picture of how Islamic State, formerly ISIS, will attempt to capture Baghdad, which its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has made an explicit goal of his organization.
ISIS, said a State Department spokesman, is “worse than al Qaeda… It’s no longer a terrorist group. It’s a full-blown army.” The group has in recent weeks focused more on establishing its roots in the areas it has conquered than expanding itself, particularly in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. There, ISIS has implemented an extreme version of Sharia Law in which theft is punishable by hand amputation and mannequins must have their faces covered at all times. ISIS has also expelled all Christians from Mosul unless they convert to Islam and pay an “infidel tax,” burning churches and purging the city of its native Christian population.
Despite their current focus on establishing themselves in already-conquered lands, most experts believe ISIS will soon continue to attempt to expand. To that end, Reuters reports, the United States continues to maintain 775 troops in Iraq: 475 working to secure U.S. personnel in the country and 300 for surveillance. In June, the United States announced it would send weaponized drones to Iraq, but it has not yet authorized their use on ISIS jihadists.
In addition to surveillance by the United States, Iran significantly escalated its military support to Iraq in the last few months, providing surveillance drones and ammunition. Those fighting ISIS– particularly the Kurdish minority whose army, the Peshmerga, have been indispensable in holding off the terrorist group– have begun to request more help, however. Speaking to the Washington Post, Masrour Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intelligence and security chief, said that he believes his troops are “really overstretched” and, without aid from the United States, can only do so much against ISIS. He told the Post that the United States had promised aid but had received “not one bullet” so far.