The US military has admitted to conducting unarmed drone flights over the Gaza Strip in order to help locate hostages taken by Hamas. The Pentagon spokesperson, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, confirmed this on Friday and stated that the drone missions began after the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, during which over 200 hostages were taken. Ryder further explained that the US is conducting these flights to support hostage recovery efforts and provide advice and assistance to Israel. However, he emphasized that the drones are not supporting Israeli military operations in the area.
This admission by the US military comes after journalists noticed MQ-9 Reaper drones circling the Palestinian enclave through flight-tracking websites. While the MQ-9 Reaper drones are capable of conducting airstrikes, they are also frequently used for surveillance purposes due to their advanced sensors and their ability to remain in the air for extended periods of time.
According to US officials cited by the New York Times, this is the first time American drones have operated over Gaza. These officials stressed that the flights are not supporting Israeli military operations and are solely intended to monitor for signs of life and pass potential leads to the Israel Defense Forces. Aviation researcher Amelia Smith informed the NYT that at least six MQ-9 Reaper drones have been spotted over southern Gaza, approximately 15 miles away from Israeli ground troops. These drones hovered over Gaza for around three hours at an altitude of 25,000 feet, and it is believed that they are being operated by US special forces.
In response to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the US has deployed thousands of troops to the Middle East, along with aircraft carrier strike groups and other naval assets. These moves are aimed at deterring outside actors from getting involved in the conflict. However, despite earlier reports suggesting that US troops could act as peacekeepers in Gaza, the White House has dismissed this idea and stated that American personnel will not operate in the territory now or in the future.
While the US has expressed strong support for Israel’s military action in Gaza, officials have recently proposed “humanitarian pauses” to facilitate aid shipments into the besieged enclave. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested that a brief truce could allow for more effective and sustained distribution of humanitarian aid. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly rejected this idea and stated that the IDF will continue striking Gaza with all of its power, refusing a temporary ceasefire that doesn’t include the return of Israeli hostages.
It is clear that the involvement of US drones in the Gaza conflict adds another layer of complexity to an already volatile situation. The use of drones for surveillance purposes and in support of hostage recovery efforts demonstrates the evolving nature of warfare and the increasing reliance on unmanned aerial systems. As the conflict continues, it remains to be seen how this new development will impact the dynamics on the ground and the prospects for peace in the region.