The U.S. military confirmed Thursday morning that Iran shot down a Navy drone, heightening already raised tensions between Washington and Tehran.
U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said an Iranian surface-to-air missile system shot down the drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz in an "unprovoked attack." It denied Iranian claims that the drone was over Hormozgan Province in southern Iran.
Centcom identified the aircraft as an RQ-4 Global Hawk that "provides real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions."
"This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce, " Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said in a statement.
He said the drone was operating at a high altitude approximately 34 kilometers away from the Iranian coast.
The Northrup Grumman-made Global Hawk, valued at $130 million, is considered the Navy's most advanced high-altitude drone.
Guastella called the attack "dangerous and escalatory," adding that it "occurred in the vicinity of established air corridors between Dubai, UAE, and Muscat Oman, possibly endangering innocent civilians."
The Pentagon also released video showing the smoke trail from the downed drone.
"Shooting down of the US spy drone has a clear message and it is the fact that the defenders of this country are ready to give decisive response to any aggression," Major-General Hossein Salami, who commands Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said, according to the state news agency.
He said that Iran’s "enemies" have "no choice" but to respect the nation’s territorial integrity and interests.
"Iran is not seeking war with any country but its armed forces are ready to defend the country against aggression," Salami added.
Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported that the Revolutionary Guard said in a statement that the drone had "turned off all its identifying equipment in violation of aviation rules and was moving in full secrecy,” Reuters noted.
Fears of war between the U.S. and Iran have been heightened in recent days after Washington accused Tehran of being behind the bombings of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. The Iranian government denied any involvement in the attacks.
President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE this week called the oil tanker attacks “minor,” but said he would “certainly go [to war] over nuclear weapons.”
The Pentagon also announced this week that it would deploy an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East to address “air, naval, and ground-based threats” in the region.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” former acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanProtection of critical military benefit shows bipartisanship can work Senators introducing bill to penalize Pentagon for failed audits Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE said. “The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation diligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats.”
Tehran responded by announcing it would surpass the limit for its uranium enrichment that was agreed to in the Obama-era nuclear deal. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal last year, but Iran has continued to keep within the agreement’s bounds until now.
Iranian officials called on European signatories to the deal to boost their support of Tehran in light of harsh reimposed U.S. sanctions if they want to keep uranium stockpiles down.
“Iran’s reserves are everyday increasing at a more rapid rate. And if it is important for them [Europe] to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts. ... As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said on state television.
Wednesday night's incident comes days after the U.S. military accused Iran of helping to or attempting to shoot down two U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones. The first drone was shot down June 6 in Yemen by Houthi rebels, who Centcom said were "enabled by Iranian assistance." The second incident happened while a drone was surveilling the June 13 tanker attack, but the attempt was "ineffective," Centcom said.
--Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:03 p.m.