June 20, 2019
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a US drone on Thursday amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, American and Iranian officials said, while disputing the circumstances of the incident.
The Guard said it shot down a RQ-4 Global Hawk over Iranian airspace, while a US official said the downing happened over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz. The different accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
Previously, the US military alleged Iran had fired a missile at another drone last week that was responding to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack on the ships; Tehran denies it was involved.
The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and Iran following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Tehran’s nuclear deal a year ago. The White House separately said it was aware of reports of a missile strike on Saudi Arabia amid a campaign targeting the kingdom by Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.
Iran recently has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 deal.
In recent weeks, the US has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. In Yemen, Iranian-allied Houthi rebels have launched bomb-laden drones into neighboring Saudi Arabia.
All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone on Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is some 1,200 kilometers southeast of Tehran and close to the Strait of Hormuz.
While Iran’s state news agency IRNA carried the same report, identifying the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk, a US official said a US Navy MQ-4C Triton had been shot down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.
The MQ-4C Triton’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, says on its website that the Triton can fly for over 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.
The US official told the AP the Iranians fired a surface-to-air missile striking the American drone. The official said the incident happened over the Strait of Hormuz in international airspace. The strait is the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which 20 percent of all global oil moves through.
The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be cleared for release to the public.