John Kirby
John KirbyREUTERS/Jim Bourg

The White House said on Thursday that the US has evidence that Iranian troops are “directly engaged on the ground” in Crimea supporting Russian drone attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure and civilian population, The Associated Press reported.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was quoted as having told reporters that Iran has sent a “relatively small number” of personnel to Crimea to assist Russian troops in launching Iranian-made drones against Ukraine.

“The information we have is that the Iranians have put trainers and tech support in Crimea, but it’s the Russians who are doing the piloting,” Kirby said, according to AP.

In July, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US had intelligence indicating that Russia is looking to Iran for UAVs.

He indicated at the time that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with several UAVs for use in Ukraine, and train Russian forces to use these UAVs.

A month later, it was reported that Iran had begun training Russians to use its drones, though it was also noted that Russia is experiencing “numerous failures” and technical glitches with the drones it purchased from Iran.

Last month, Ukraine reported the first Russian attacks carried out using Iranian-made drones, targeting the south of the country, including the strategic city of Odessa on the Black Sea.

At the start of October, Iranian-made drones were also reportedly used in an attack in the Ukrainian town of Bila Tserkva, southwest of the capital Kyiv.

Kirby’s comments came two days after current and former US officials told The New York Times that Iran has sent trainers to Ukraine to help Russians overcome problems with the fleet of drones that they purchased from Tehran.