Iranians are supporting Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine with the operation of drones supplied by Iran, according to a US Defense Department assessment.
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a media briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday that Iranian military personnel are believed on the ground in Crimea assisting Russian military personnel to conduct these drone operations in Ukraine.
Ryder noted that the department knows the drones are from Iran. However, the Iranians reportedly have denied shipping drones to be used against Ukraine.
“It’s just indicative of the kinds of rhetoric that you hear coming from Iran and from Russia, trying to say that these are not Iranian drones when they clearly are,” Ryder said.
“In many ways, these drones are used to, as psychological weapons used to create fear. But from an operational, from a strategic standpoint, it still doesn’t change the fact that Russian forces on the ground continue to lose territory or at best hold ground,” he said.
The assessment on the presence of Iranians in Ukraine comes after first footage emerged earlier this week showing Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones were used in attacks on Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said in a separate media event that officials were concerned that Russia may also seek to acquire advanced conventional weapons from Iran, such as surface-to-surface missiles “that will almost certainly be used to support the war against Ukraine.”
“Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground and through the provision of weapons that are impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine — in fact, that are killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” Kirby said.
“So, let’s be very clear: The United States is going to pursue all means to expose, deter, and confront Iran’s provision of these munitions against the Ukrainian people. We’re going to continue to vigorously enforce all US sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade. We’re going to make it harder for Iran to sell these weapons to Russia. We’re going to help the Ukrainians have what they need to defend themselves against these threats. And we’re going to continue to stand with our partners throughout the Middle East region against the Iranian threat.”
It is worth noting that the Pentagon shared its assessment on Iranian operators in Ukraine just a day after General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, visited Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine USS West Virginia in the Arabian Sea. What made this visit extraordinary is the fact that it was disclosed, even on the same day it happened. The US Navy usually keeps the deployment of its SSBNs secret and provides few details on their operations.
The navy said the Kurilla was joined on the USS West Virginia by Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and NAVCENT, somewhere in the international waters of the Arabian Sea, which, depending on the position, could be close to Iranian waters.