U.S. Central Command asserted that “Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false” after a U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS-D) ISR aircraft was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz just before midnight Wednesday.
CENTCOM said the drone was taken down by “an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace,” an incident heightening tensions even further in the region a week after two tankers were struck by explosions in the Gulf of Oman.
“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace,” CENTCOM spokesman Navy Capt. Bill Urban said. “The BAMS-D is a RQ-4A Global Hawk High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) and provides real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions.”
CENTCOM Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella later pinned blame on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, saying the Global Hawk “was flying over the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz on a surveillance mission in international airspace in the vicinity of recent IRGC maritime attacks when it was shot down by an IRGC surface-to-air missile fired from a location in the vicinity of Goruk, Iran.”
“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” Guastella added.
“The aircraft was over the Strait of Hormuz and fell into international waters. At the time of the intercept, the RQ-4 was operating at high-altitude approximately 34 kilometers from the nearest point of land on the Iranian coast,” he said. “This dangerous and escalatory attack was irresponsible and occurred in the vicinity of established air corridors between Dubai, UAE, and Muscat, Oman, possibly endangering innocent civilians.”
The Navy released video showing smoke from the RQ-4:
Two days before the incident, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said he authorized “approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East.”
“The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region,” Shanahan said, adding “the United States does not seek conflict with Iran.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted, “The US wages
#EconomicTerrorism on Iran, has conducted covert action against us & now encroaches on our territory. We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters. We’ll take this new aggression to #UN & show that the US is lying about international waters.”
He then tweeted a scribbled-on map showing what Iran says was the drone’s flight path after taking off from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, adding the Global Hawk was targeted “at the coordinates (25°59’43″N 57°02’25″E) near Kouh-e Mobarak.”
“We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down,” Zarif said.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airmen late Thursday barring U.S.-registered aircraft, passenger and cargo, from flying over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman “due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions that might place commercial flights at risk.”
Before the FAA alert, United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines said they had suspended any flights that passed over Iran. Other major global carriers including Lufthansa, Qantas, and British Airways said they were also re-routing flights.
Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency said today that their foreign ministry summoned Swiss Ambassador to Tehran Markus Leitner, representing U.S. interests in Iran, and delivered a memo of protest to Washington.
“The Iranian Armed Forces will exercise maximum restraint to protect the security and serenity of the sensitive region of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, but if the other side undertakes any uncalculated and provocative measure, it will face a reciprocal move with unpredictable consequences which will inflict damages and casualties on all sides,” Iran warned in the message.
The New York Times reported late Thursday that President Trump approved a retaliatory strike against targets including radar and missile batteries pre-dawn today, but the attack plans were called off. While the administration and Pentagon did not comment on the report, the NYT said there was disagreement in the executive branch over the response but CIA Director Gina Haspel, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo favored strikes.
“Iran made a big mistake. This drone was in international waters, clearly. We have it all documented. It’s documented scientifically, not just words. And they made a very bad mistake,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday.
He later said, “I think, probably, Iran made a mistake. I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down.”
Asked if he was open to talking with Iran, Trump replied, “Let’s just see what happens. You just — let’s see what happens. It’s all going to work out.”
“This is a new wrinkle. This is a new fly in the ointment, what happened shooting down the drone,” he said.
“And this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”