Washington: Iran shot down a US naval surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz, the US Central Command confirmed the incident on Thursday amid growing tensions in the Persian Gulf region.
“US Central Command can confirm that a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (or BAMS-D) ISR aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 2335 hrs GMT on June 19, 2019,” a CENTCOM spokesman, Capt Bill Urban, said in a statement.
However, he denied the reports that the drone was inside Iranian airspace when it was shot down.
“Iranian reporting that the aircraft was over Iran, were false,” he said. “This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in the international airspace.”
Urban said the drone was an RQ-4A Global Hawk High-Altitude, Long, Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that conducts “real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions” over oceans and coastal territories.
Earlier, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement that it targeted the drone which it identified as an RQ-4 Global Hawk inside Iranian airspace over the southern province of Hormozgan, next to the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
The Revolutionary Guard’s chief commander, Maj Gen Hossein Salami, called the downing of the drone “a clear message to America.”
“Our borders are Iran’s red line, and we will react strongly against any aggression,” Salami said in remarks carried by Iranian state television.
“Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran,” he said.
The attacks come amid a simmering standoff between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf region following assaults on Japanese and Norwegian tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
The Trump administration has blamed Iran for the attacks, at least one of which was carried out using a limpet mine similar to those previously displayed at Iranian military parades.
Iran has denied involvement and called the accusation “unfair” and “a lie.”
The US Central Command said that a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile was fired at an MQ-9 reaper drone over the Gulf of Oman as it surveilled the attack on the Japanese tanker, Kokuka Courageous, on June 13.
On Monday, the US defence department said it was deploying 1,000 extra troops to the region in response to “hostile behaviour” by Iranian forces.
Tensions were further fueled, when Iran said its stockpile of low-enriched uranium would next week exceed limits it agreed with world powers under a landmark nuclear deal in 2015.
Iran stepped up its production in response to tightening economic sanctions from the US, which unilaterally withdrew from the deal last year.