Hagel: US knows Iran, Russia aiding Iraq in fight against ISIS

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday that Iran and Russia were helping Iraq battle a Sunni extremist insurgency but that the U.S. was not coordinating its own assistance with either country.

"We are aware of the Iranian and Russian efforts to help the Iraqis, but we are not involved in coordinating any missions," Hagel said. 

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Hagel’s comments came after reports quoted Iraqi military officials saying that Iran and Russia were conducting airstrikes in their country, hitting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets. 

A Pentagon official said the U.S. believes Iranian pilots are in the air in Iraq but not Russian pilots.

"We believe that there are some manned Iranian flights manned by Iranian pilots," the official said. "There's nothing that indicates there are Russian pilots flying around." 

Earlier this week, Iran sent three Su-25 fighter jets to Iraq designed for close air support of ground troops. 

ISIS has captured large parts of both Syria and Iraq, leading the U.S. to step up assistance to help local forces combat the threat.

The U.S. is conducting dozens of manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Iraq daily to assist in the fight, but the defense official said any coordination is being managed by the Iraqis. 

There are also approximately 750 U.S. troops operating in Baghdad and Erbil in the north. 

U.S. troops on the ground are finalizing assessments and are expected to provide those in the coming days. Those reports could lay the basis for further possible U.S. actions. 

"As you know, we are just finishing up with our assessment teams there, and they'll be providing some recommendations and guidance based on those assessments," Hagel said.  

 

-- Updated 7/12/14 at 10:30 a.m.

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