A secret US surveillance drone that went missing last week in western Afghanistan appears to have crashed in Iran, in what may be the first case of such an aircraft ending up in the hands of an adversary.
Iran’s news agencies asserted that the nation’s defense forces brought down the drone, which the Iranian reports said was an RQ-170 stealth aircraft.
A stealthy RQ-170 drone played a critical role in providing surveillance of the compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was hiding in the months before the raid in which he was killed by US Navy Seals in May.
US officials acknowledged Sunday that a drone had been lost near the Iranian border, but they declined to say what kind of aircraft was missing.
The Iranian government has not released any pictures of the recovered aircraft, which they said was downed by defense forces after it flew across the border and into the country’s airspace. An unnamed Iranian defense official said in one report that a cyberattack caused the drone to crash.
US officials cast doubt on this and other Iranian claims. “We have no indication that it was brought down by hostile fire,” said a senior Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
If an RQ-170 drone crashed in Iran, it would mark a significant setback for the US military. The US has lost less-sophisticated unmanned aircraft in recent years over Iran, but a nearly intact RQ-170 could offer a potential windfall of useful intelligence for the Iranians and their allies.
The first reports of the drone crash came from Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency. “Iran’s army has downed an intruding RQ-170 US drone in eastern Iran,” the Arabic-language al-Alam state television network quoted an unnamed source as saying. “The spy drone, which has been downed with little damage, was seized by the armed forces.”
The US military released a short statement later Sunday on the missing drone. “The (unmanned aerial vehicle) to which the Iranians are referring may be a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week,” it said. “The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status.”
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