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U.S. Flying Spy Drones Over Gaza to Search for Hostages: Report

(Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
(Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

By: Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation

U.S. spy drones have been flying over and near the Gaza Strip to search for hostages since the Hamas terrorist group infiltrated Israel and took as many as 240 people, including Americans, hostage on Oct. 7, The New York Times reported.

The flights suggest that the U.S. is playing a more active role in hostage recovery than was previously known, as the Pentagon has tasked military personnel with advising and providing intelligence support to Israeli hostage rescuers. That intelligence support may also include MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone flights conducted in hopes of finding roughly 10 remaining Americans held hostage, the NYT reported, citing a NYT analysis of public flight data and two defense officials who spoke to the outlet on condition of anonymity.

Analysts first spotted the Reapers reporting their status and altitude on Flightradar24, a commercially-available flight tracking website, on Oct. 28, according to the NYT. But, U.S. Special Operations forces began conducting unmanned aircraft sorties within days after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, the officials said.

The U.S. has never before flown reconnaissance missions over Gaza, the defense officials said, according to the NYT. Israel regularly conducts surveillance in the airspace above Gaza.

U.S. surveillance flights are not supporting Israel Defense Forces (IDF) military operations in Gaza, the officials told the NYT. Rather, their objective is to identify hostages, determine their status and provide information to Israeli forces.

Several dozen American Special Operations forces have arrived in Israel since Oct. 7 to advise on hostage recovery efforts. It was not clear if these are the same personnel manning the spy flights; analyst Amelia Smith first spotted an unmanned aerial vehicle flying from the coast of Crete to Gaza, where it loitered for several hours, on Oct. 29.

Israel’s military has surrounded Gaza City and is in the beginning stages of military operations in the city itself, the NYT reported. One of the IDF’s war aims is to rescue hostages; as time progresses and Israel’s military presses further into Gaza, it may become more difficult to ensure hostage survival.

Most MQ-9 flights center around areas in southern Gaza, away from the primary thrust of IDF operations, the NYT reported. Smith told the outlet she identified at least six distinct MQ-9 drones involved in the effort. Several hovered over Gaza for about three hours at altitudes of 24,000 to 26,000 feet.

Hamas militants threatened to kill hostages if Israel does not stop launching airstrikes on Gaza.

While the MQ-9 was first designed as a “hunter-killer” drone, the U.S. military gives it surveillance missions due to its ability to loiter for as long as 20 hours and advanced sensors and radars, according to the NYT.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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