US shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon off Carolina coast
The U.S. shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon off the Carolina coast on Saturday, after the high-altitude balloon spent the last week traveling across the country, according to the Pentagon.
“This afternoon, at the direction of President Biden, U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
An operation is reportedly underway to recover debris from the downed balloon, The Associated Press confirmed.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) paused flights from three airports in North Carolina and South Carolina and closed additional airspace on Saturday afternoon as part of a “national security effort” with the Defense Department.The balloon had been seen traveling over the Carolinas on Saturday.
U.S. military commanders had previously declined to shoot down the balloon, which was estimated to be about the size of three school buses and traveling at about 60,000 feet, due to safety concerns on the ground, per AP.
U.S. defense officials confirmed the existence of the balloon on Thursday, after it was first spotted hovering over Montana on Wednesday. Beijing acknowledged on Friday that the balloon was Chinese but claimed it was a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological research.
“Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course,” a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. “The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”
However, the presence of the balloon has heightening tensions in an already strained relationship between Beijing and Washington. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a trip to Beijing on Friday, with a senior State Department official calling the balloon a “clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.”
The U.S. has refused to accept China’s explanation for the balloon, alleging that it was attempting to surveil “strategic sites” within the U.S.
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