WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. knows Russia and Iran are providing fighter aircraft to help Iraq combat Islamic extremists, but Washington is not coordinating assistance with either Russia or Iran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
Hagel was asked at a Pentagon news conference about reports that Iranian and Russian planes are flying combat missions over northern Iraq and why Washington is not seeking to coordinate with them.
"We are aware of the Iranian and Russian efforts to help the Iraqis, but we are not involved in coordinating any missions," Hagel replied. He said the U.S. is assessing the condition of Iraqi security forces and providing advice, "and that's what we will continue to do."
A defense official said later that Hagel did not mean to suggest that Russian or Iranian pilots are flying in Iraqi airspace. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal assessments of Russian and Iranian actions.
The official said Russia sent a small number — perhaps five — Su-25 fighters to Iraq to be flown by Iraqi pilots, but it's not clear whether the planes are yet ready for combat.
Iran sent a similar number of Su-25 fighters, as well as flight instructors to help Iraqi pilots familiarize themselves with the planes before flying them, the official said, adding that there is no evidence Iranian pilots are flying.
The official said Washington is much more concerned about Iran's role than Russia's because Tehran is provided more diverse and more sophisticated military aid to Iraq, including surveillance drones and military advisers.