As US, Iran Tussle Over Location of Downed Drone, Trump Says ‘This Country Will Not Stand For It’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 20, 2019 | 9:48pm EDT
A U.S. Air Force RQ-4A Global Hawk. (Photo: Northrup Grumman)

( – The Pentagon Thursday disputed Iran’s claim that it shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone after it crossed into Iranian airspace, and President Trump called Iran’s action “a very big mistake,” warning that “this country will not stand for it.”

But in remarks made alongside visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House, Trump also appeared to allow for the possibility that the downing of the unarmed U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk may have been the actions of overzealous military personnel rather than a regime-sanctioned act.

“I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down,” he told reporters. “I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

“But we’ll be able to report back, and you’ll understand exactly what happened. But it was a very foolish move, that I can tell you.”

Trump also pointed out that the drone was unmanned, suggesting that the fact no U.S. personnel had been killed or wounded was a factor to be taken into account as the U.S. weighs any response.

“We didn’t have a man or woman in the drone. We had nobody in the drone,” he said. “It would have made a big difference, let me tell you. It would have made a big, big difference.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claims that it shot down the drone with a surface-to-air missile after it entered Iranian airspace; the Pentagon contests that.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said at the time of the shootdown, the RQ-4 was flying at a high altitude, “approximately 34 kilometers [21.1 miles] from the nearest point of land on the Iranian coast.”

(Under the U.N. Convention for the Law of the Sea, territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles – 13.8 miles or 22.2 kilometers – from a country’s coastline. Neither the U.S. nor Iran has ratified the 1982 treaty.)

“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset that had not violated Iranian airspace at any time during its mission,” he said. “Iranian reports that this aircraft was shot down over Iran are categorically false. The aircraft was over the Strait of Hormuz and fell into international waters.”

Guastella said the downing of the drone was “an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce.”

“This dangerous and escalatory attack was irresponsible and occurred in the vicinity of established air corridors between Dubai, UAE, and Muscat Oman, possibly endangering innocent civilians.”

The location where U.S. military officials say the U.S. Navy RQ-4 was downed by an IRGC surface-to-air missile. (Image: Department of Defense)

Propaganda video

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif accused the U.S. of “lying about international waters,” saying on Twitter Tehran would take up the matter with the United Nations.

“We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” he said.

The IRGC – which the Trump administration last April designated as a foreign terrorist organization – said the destruction of the drone sent a “clear message” to the U.S. and others that any intrusion into Iran’s sovereign territory would draw a crushing response.

“Borders are our red line, and any enemy violating these borders will not return,” the Tasnim news agency quoted IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami as saying.

The IRGC released a propaganda video illustrating the shooting down of the drone. To the accompaniment of stirring music, footage of an RQ-4 taking off is followed by the purported firing of a surface-to-air missile. Iranian media reports identified it as a Khordad-3 air defense system.

Then comes footage supposedly showing the missile in flight, followed by a distant explosion in the night sky. Cries of “Allahu Akbar” are heard. The clip ends with a map of the Persian Gulf, the supposed route taken by the drone, and then a graphic explosion.

The incident is the latest in a series blamed by the U.S. military and Trump administration on Iran and its surrogates in recent weeks.

They include attacks on two tankers near the Persian Gulf on June 13, and an attempt the same day to shoot down a U.S. surveillance drone filming the tanker incident; a missile attack on a Saudi airport on June 12; the shooting down over Yemen of a U.S. surveillance drone on June 6; a rocket that landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on May 19; a drone attack on Saudi oil pipelines on May 14; and the sabotage of four tankers off the UAE coast on May 12.

“Iran directly attacked a United States asset over international waters,” House Republican leaders said in a joint statement Thursday. “This provocation comes a week after they attacked and destroyed two commercial tankers in international waters.”

“There must be a measured response to these actions. President Trump and his national security team remain clear-eyed on the situation and what must be done in response to increased Iranian aggression,” they said. “In Congress, we stand ready to support our men and women in uniform, our country, and our allies in the region.”

The statement came from Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and the ranking members of the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services committees, Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

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