Iran's IRGC shoots down US drone amid tensions
TEHRAN - Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down a US drone on Thursday amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, American and Iranian officials said, while disputing the circumstances of the incident.
The IRGC said it shot down the drone over Iranian airspace, while two US officials told The Associated Press the downing happened over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz. The different accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
Previously, the US military alleged Iran had fired a missile at another drone last week that was responding to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack on the ships; Tehran denies it was involved.
The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and Iran following President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from Tehran's nuclear deal a year ago. The White House separately said it was aware of reports of a missile strike on Saudi Arabia amid a campaign targeting the kingdom by Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.
Iran recently has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 deal.
In recent weeks, the US has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. From Yemen, Iranian-allied Houthi rebels have launched bomb-laden drones into neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran's Islamic Revolution. Thursday's drone shootdown marks the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on the US amid the crisis.
Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guards, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone on Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran's Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Tehran and close to the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency, citing the Guard, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk. However, the US Navy also flies a variant that looks similar called the MQ-4C Triton.
The US officials told the AP the Iranians fired a surface-to-air missile striking the American drone. The officials said the incident happened over the Strait of Hormuz in international airspace. The strait is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all global oil moves through.
The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be cleared for release to the public. They did not elaborate on the type of drone shot down, nor the mission it was conducting. However, the US has been worried about international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since the limpet mine attacks in May and June.