A U.S. official confirmed to CNN that armed American drones started flying over Baghdad in the previous 24 hours to provide additional protection for 180 U.S. military advisers in the area. Until now, U.S. officials had said all drone reconnaissance flights over Iraq were unarmed.
Using the drones for any offensive strikes against insurgent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters would continue to require approval from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Also on Friday, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said disputed areas in northern Iraq, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, are part of the Kurdish autonomous region from now on after the Iraqi central government failed to hold a long-awaited referendum.
Earlier this month, the Iraqi army withdrew from Kirkuk and Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of the city and small villages in the areas as ISIS carried out a lightning offensive and took several cities in northern Iraq.