DOD confirms Iranian attack on US drone

The Pentagon on Thursday confirmed that Iranian fighter jets opened fire on an American surveillance drone during an intelligence-gathering operation near the country earlier this month.

The incident took place in international airspace 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coastline, DOD press secretary George Little told reporters at the Pentagon. 

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Thursday's press conference was the first time DOD publicly disclosed details of the attack, which took place in the early morning hours of Nov. 1. 

The U.S. aircraft did return to base unharmed, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and President Barack Obama were immediately informed of the attack, according to Little.

"There is absolutely no precedence for this," Little said regarding this type of Iranian aggression against American manned or unmanned aircraft in the region. 

Little dismissed claims the incident was kept under wraps by the Pentagon and the administration due to its proximity to the 2012 presidential election, which took place just days after the strike. 

The MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft was conducting a classified aerial surveillance mission in the region when two Iranian-flagged Su-25 Sukhoi fighters opened fire, according to Little. 

The Iranian jets fired twice on the U.S. drone, missing the aircraft both times, before the unmanned aircraft began its flight back to base. 

On its return, the Iranian jet tailed the drone for several miles in international airspace, before breaking off the pursuit once the unmanned aircraft entered sovereign territory. 

At no time did the U.S. drone enter Iranian airspace, nor did Iranian fighters enter into sovereign territory, Little noted during Thursday's briefing. 

Little refused to comment on whether the U.S. drone belonged to the military or was being operated by members of U.S. intelligence. He also declined to comment on the location of the base from which the drone was being operated. 

However, he did note the shots fired by the Iranian fighters were not intended as warning shots or an attempt to ward off the drone from its mission. 

"The working assumption was ... to take it down," according to the DOD spokesman. 

The last known loss of an American unmanned surveillance drone was when a Navy Fire Scout was shot down by Libyan forces during the U.N. peacekeeping operation in the country last year. 

In October, Israeli forces shot down an Iranian drone but not before the aircraft gathered sensitive intelligence on several secret Israeli military sites, particularly the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert and other sensitive locations in the South Mount Hebron area, according to Tehran. 

Last December, Iran took down the top-secret RQ-170 intelligence drone dubbed the 'Beast of Kandahar' for its past intelligence operations in Afghanistan. 

Iranian engineers allegedly hacked into the aircraft's control system, tricking the drone's guidance systems to think it was landing in U.S.-held territory in Afghanistan, according to news reports at the time. 

In fact, Iranian hackers claim to have guided the CIA-operated aerial drone to land in Iran.