US Says It Shot Down an Iranian Drone

A UH-1Y Venom helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz, July 18, 2019. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The United States downed an Iranian drone that was threatening a U.S. ship in the Strait of Hormuz, President Donald Trump said Thursday — an allegation that Iran denied.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters,” Trump said at the White House on Thursday afternoon. “The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce.”

Trump told reporters at the White House Thursday that the drone came within 3,000 feet of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer and ignored multiple warnings to change its course. He said the drone was “immediately destroyed” by the Navy ship.

But the Iranian military said all its drones had returned safely to their bases and denied there was any confrontation with a U.S. vessel on Thursday.

“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else,” tweeted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that “we have no information about losing a drone today.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said on its website Friday that it would release images from the drone — taken before and after the United States claimed it was downed.

The Guard said the drone had been carrying out regular surveillance when the USS Boxer arrived, and transmitted photos of the ship. The statement said that Guard forces continue to monitor all movements of foreigners — especially “the terrorist forces” of the United States and the British in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf.

The Guard did not say when the images would be released.

The incident is the latest in a string of escalations between the United States and Iran in recent weeks and months. Last month, Iran shot down a U.S. drone, prompting a planned retaliatory airstrike from the United States that Trump called off at the last minute. The two countries dispute whether the drone was in Iranian or international airspace.

Zarif said Thursday that Iran and the United States were only “a few minutes away from a war” after Iran downed the American drone. He spoke to U.S.-based media on the sidelines of his visit to the U.N.

Earlier Thursday, Iran admitted it had seized a Panamanian tanker ship and its crew. That action came roughly a month after attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, for which the United States and other countries have blamed Iran.

The strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf serves as a passageway for one-fifth of global crude exports; a clash there highlights the risk of war between Iran and the United States.

The Pentagon said Thursday’s incident happened at 10 a.m. local time in international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the Persian Gulf. The Boxer is among several U.S. Navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks.

Neither Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the Boxer destroyed the drone. CNN reported that the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down rather than hitting it with a missile.

In Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted military spokesman Gen. Abolfazl Shekari as saying that “all Iranian drones that are in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one which the U.S. president mentioned, have … returned to their bases.”

The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it’s not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a U.S. warship.

In December, about 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group through the strait as Associated Press journalists on board watched. One small vessel launched what appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the U.S. ships.

Other transits have seen the Iranians fire rockets away from U.S. warships or test-fire their machine guns. The Guard’s small fast boats often cut in front of the massive carriers, running dangerously close to running into them in “swarm attacks.” The Guard boats are often armed with bomb-carrying drones and sea-to-sea and surface-to-sea missiles.

Thursday’s incident was the latest in a series of events that raised U.S.-Iran tensions since early May when Washington accused Tehran of threatening U.S. forces and interests in Iraq and in the Gulf.

“We live in a very dangerous environment,” Zarif said. “The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss.”

Zarif blamed Washington for the escalation and accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through economic sanctions.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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