Ukraine’s military says Iranian attack drones have reached the battlefield

KOROPOVE, Ukraine – A Ukrainian officer says that a fearsome effective weapon has appeared in the war with the Russian side: an Iranian-made attack drone.

Russia and Iran have never acknowledged reaching an agreement for the Shahed-136 . attack dronebut a senior Ukrainian military official said ruins were discovered on the ground during the counteroffensive that Kyiv started in the northeast earlier this month.

The powerful weapon is a so-called kamikaze drone that carries a warhead that weighs about 80 pounds. Its arrival in Ukraine is the first time it has been deployed outside the Middle East.

The use of the Shahed-136 drone shows that while Russia remains largely isolated on the international stage and was even criticized by the leaders of China and India last week, Moscow is still seeking to see support from Iran. It also adds an extra layer of geopolitical complexity to the conflict as more and more states join in supplying weapons.

During its first use in Ukraine, the Iranian drone detonated a US-supplied M777 howitzer used by the Ukrainian military, said Colonel Rodion Kulagin, commander of artillery operations during the operation. counterattack Kharkiv, said in an interview.

Colonel Kulagin said: “It blew the number three seven in half. “Instead of firing 100 shells, it would be easier to drop one of these drones” to search for a target, he added.

Half a dozen attacks destroyed artillery and armored vehicles, he said, killing four soldiers and injuring 16. Russia’s use of Iranian drones was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The arrival of the drones – even in the wake of Ukraine’s ongoing counter-offensive and success in the northeast – prompted Colonel Kulagin to call on Ukraine’s Western allies to quickly provide supplies. defense system or a similar weapon to strike back.

“Give us something like this,” said Colonel Kulagin.

Drones have played an important role in the conflict. The United States supplied Ukraine with its Switchblade drone, and an attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters involved drones. Ukraine has also deployed Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones that fire guided missiles.

The Shahed-136 is a flat-wing drone launched from the back of a flatbed truck. Colonel Kulagin said he was not aware of any intelligence indicating the presence of launchers or drones on the Russian side of the front. But the remains of a drone that crashed near the town of Kupyansk, apparently after malfunctioning, proved the weapon was being used, he said.

According to Colonel Kulagin and a Ukrainian artillery officer who witnessed one of the airstrikes, the weapon fell from the sky without warning. It was accurate enough to hit a self-propelled howitzer near the turret, where the gunpowder was stored, causing secondary explosions, said Colonel Kulagin.

In such attacks, nothing is left of the drone after it explodes, he said. But eyewitness accounts and the nature of the explosions, so different from the damage caused by artillery fire, give the Ukrainian military confidence in their assessment that the drones were deployed. successful.

Debris from the downed drone shows that the Russian military has removed the markings of Iran. Colonel Kulagin said the drone was mislabeled on a small wing as a Russian-made Geran-2 drone.

“It’s a very serious matter,” he said. Without countermeasures, he added, “they will destroy all of our artillery.”

It is not clear how many drones Russia has purchased to attack Iran. US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in July that Russia intends to buy several hundred Iranian drones of various types.

There was no immediate response from Washington to reports that Shahed-136 drones were being used in Ukraine. On Friday, General James Hecker, the top US air force commander in Europe, said that Russia had only “received” Iranian drones “so we really don’t know yet what they will use.” how they are or how effective they are. coming soon.”

The Shahed-136 drones have so far been deployed only in northeastern Ukraine, Colonel Kulagin said. The first successful attack, with an M777 howitzer, near the town of Chuguyev in August, before the counterattack began. Other strikes have occurred in the past week or so, he said.

“They are testing them and have concentrated them in this area,” said Colonel Kulagin.

Captain Volodymyr Danchenko, an artillery officer whom the Ukrainian military was present for a telephone interview, said he witnessed an attack by a self-propelled howitzer – a tracked armored vehicle. briefly parked to fire artillery before moving to avoid counterattack.

He said that the drone entered and destroyed the howitzer.

“It’s not like artillery hit us before,” he said. “I’ve never come across something like this before.”

Maria Varennikova and Eric Schmitt contribution report.

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