Navy denies Iranian reports of captured US drone

"The U.S. Navy and our partners have operated Scan Eagle in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility for several years," spokesman Cmdr. Jason Salata told The Hill on Tuesday. 

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In that time, "we do not have record of any lost Scan Eagles occurring recently," he said. 

Additionally, Salata said all aerial intelligence and surveillance operations conducted by U.S. forces in and around Iran and the Gulf region "are in compliance with international law." 

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

Salata's comments came shortly after Iranian naval officials claimed on Tuesday to have taken control of a Scan Eagle after the drone was spotted inside Iranian airspace. 

Naval air defense units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claim to have pinpointed and "brought under control" the U.S. drone after the aircraft crossed into the country's sovereign territory, IRGC Navy Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi told the state-run FARS news agency. 

Fadavi confirmed on Tuesday the drone was a Navy Scan Eagle, which is a medium-range unmanned drone usually launched from the decks of American warships. 

Salata disputed Fadavi's claims, noting that several U.S. allies in the region own and operate the Boeing-built drone as part of their own militaries. 

"The U.S. is not the only operator of the Scan Eagle system," the 5th Fleet spokesman said. 

U.S. forces "have employed Scan Eagle in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Horn of Africa and in other theaters," Salata said.

The drone-capture claims from Tehran are the latest instance of rising tensions between Iran and Washington over U.S.-led intelligence and surveillance operations in the Gulf. 

In November, the Pentagon confirmed that Iranian warplanes opened fire on an American drone conducting an intelligence operation off the Iranian coastline. 

The U.S. aircraft returned to the base unharmed, but not before Iranian fighters fired twice on it and tailed it for several miles in international airspace, before breaking off the pursuit once the drone entered sovereign territory, Department of Defense Press Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Nov. 8. 

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

Panetta and President Obama were immediately informed of the November attack, according to Little. Salata did not confirm whether the White House or Pentagon were informed of this most recent incident.

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