Navy: No US Drones Missing After Iran Claim
TEHRAN, Iran -- A U.S. Navy spokesman says no American drones are missing in the Middle East following Iranian claims it had captured an unmanned American surveillance aircraft.
Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, says all U.S. drones in the region are "fully accounted for." He also cast doubt on Iranian claims Tuesday that the U.S. ScanEagle drone entered Iranian airspace, saying U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf are "confined to internationally recognized water and airspace."
He says that U.S. ScanEagles have been lost into the sea in the past, but none have gone down recently.
Other nations in the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates, have ScanEagle drones in service.
The 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain.
Iran's state TV had reported Tuesday that the country's Revolutionary Guard has captured a U.S. drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf.
The report quoted the Guard's navy chief, Gen. Ali Fadavi, as saying that the Iranian forces caught the "intruding" drone, which had apparently taken off from a U.S. aircraft carrier.
Fadavi said the unmanned ScanEagle aircraft was now in Iran's possession.
"The U.S. drone, which was conducting a reconnaissance flight and gathering data over the Persian Gulf in the past few days, was captured by the Guard's navy air defense unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace," Fadavi said. "Such drones usually take off from large warships."
He didn't provide any further details nor said when the incident happened.
But Al-Alam, the Iranian state TV's Arabic-language channel, showed two Guard commanders examining what appeared to be an intact ScanEagle drone. It was not immediately clear if that was the same drone Iran claimed to have captured.
In the footage, the two men then point to a huge map of the Persian Gulf in the background, showing the drone's alleged path of entry into Iranian airspace.
"We shall trample on the U.S," was printed over the map, next to the Guard's coat-of-arms.
If true, the seizure of the drone would be the third reported incident involving Iran and U.S. drones in the past two years.
Last month, Iran claimed that a U.S. drone had violated its airspace. Pentagon said the unmanned aircraft came under fire -- at least twice but was not hit -- and that the Predator was over international waters.
The Nov. 1 shooting in the Gulf was unprecedented, and further escalated tensions between the United States and Iran, which is under international sanctions over its suspect nuclear program. Tehran denies it's pursuing a nuclear weapon and insists its program is for peaceful purposes only.
In 2011, Iran claimed it brought down a CIA spy drone after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which is equipped with stealth technology, was captured almost intact. Tehran later said it recovered data from the top-secret drone.
In the case of the Sentinel, after initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed it had been monitoring Iran's military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.
The U.S and its allies believe Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation and cancer treatment.