Air Force general cites 'continuing issue' with Iranian intercepts

Air Force general cites 'continuing issue' with Iranian intercepts
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An U.S. Air Force general on Tuesday said Iran has continually intercepted U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, after Iranian forces threatened to shoot down two Navy planes over the weekend. 

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"This has been a continuing issue with respect to Iranian intercepts," said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, who is the top U.S. commander of the coalition air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  

On Saturday, Iran threatened to shoot down two U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft flying close to Iranian territory in the Persian Gulf. 

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon with a crew of nine and an EP-3 Eries with a crew of 24 were flying separate reconnaissance missions in the international waters of the Persian Gulf, 13 miles off the coast of Iran.  

Iranian military forces at air defense stations in three separate radio calls warned the two aircraft to change course or risk getting shot down, defense officials said. 

The Iranians told the pilots they were “near Iranian airspace, and if they did not change course immediately, ‘we will fire Iranian missile,'” according to a statement from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (Navcent) and the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters. 

The U.S aircraft independently replied, “This is a coalition aircraft conducting routine operations in international airspace,” and continued their respective missions, Navcent said.

Navcent said the interaction was considered "unprofessional" but not "unsafe."

"U.S. Naval Forces Central Command assesses this interaction as unprofessional due to the threatening nature of the Iranian warning directed at 2 aircraft flying routine flight paths in international airspace. This interaction was not assessed as unsafe because the aircraft were out of known Iranian surface to air weapons range," Navcent spokesman Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban said. 

Updated 1 p.m.