(CNN) — The White House says Iranian military personnel have visited Crimea to assist with Russian operations targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine using drones.
John Kirby, the communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said the presence of Iranian personnel was evidence of Tehran’s direct engagement in the conflict.
“We can confirm that Russian military personnel that are based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs, using them to conduct strikes across Ukraine, including strikes against Kyiv,” Kirby said, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles.
CNN previously reported that Iranian military personnel had been sent to Crimea to train Russian forces.
“Iranian military personnel were on the ground in Crimea and assisted with these operations,” he said. “Russia has received dozens of UAVs so far and will likely continue to receive additional shipments in the future.”
The US has said before that Russia was obtaining drones from Iran, but has not previously disclosed that Iranian personnel are on the ground assisting in using the weapons.
Kirby said it was a “relatively small number” of Iranian personnel on the ground.
“Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground and through the provision of weapons that are impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, that are killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” he said.
He said the Russians weren’t familiar with the use of the drones, and needed help from the Iranian personnel to use them.
He said the US is now concerned that Russia is seeking to acquire additional weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles, from Iran. He said Iran and Russia continue to lie about their partnership.
“They can lie to the world but they certainly can’t hide the facts,” he said.
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