A U.S. Marine-operated surveillance drone prepares to land outside a Marine base on March 21, 2009, near the remote village of Baqwa, Afghanistan
Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images.
UPDATE: Iran is crowing that it's in the process of "reverse-engineering" a high-tech U.S. spy drone that it captured earlier this month, the Associated Press reports.
The country's national security officials said Monday they have nearly finished extracting data from the crashed unmanned aircraft. They plan to file a lawsuit against the United States in U.S. courts over the drone's "invasion" of their airspace.
Iranian and American officials have offered conflicting accounts of nearly every aspect of the drone saga. Iran says it detected the drone in its airspace, hacked its controls and brought it down electronically. The United States has maintained that the drone malfunctioned, though officials have not been able to explain how it landed mostly intact given that it typically flies at 50,000 feet.
Until recently the United States had said it was unclear whether Iran in fact had an American drone, but officials are now confirming that it does, CBS News reports. The craft has been identified as an RQ-170 Sentinel, aka the "Beast of Kandahar," one of the country's most technologically advanced spy drones.
The affair has Iran trying to stake a claim to the high ground in its escalating public relations battle with the United States and other Western powers. The country has complained to the UN Security Council for the U.S.'s "blatant and provocative" violation of its airspace, and its state-run TV channel has called it an act of war.
For more, the Christian Science Monitor has an in-depth story about the drone affair and its implications.
Wednesday, Dec. 7: U.S. officials considered launching a covert mission inside Iran to retrieve or destroy the CIA-controlled stealth drone that crashed there over the weekend, but ultimately concluded such an operation ran too much of a risk of igniting a serious clash with Tehran, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Associated Press reports the craft, a modified RQ-170 drone named the Sentinel, was one of a fleet of drones that were stationed in Shindad, Afghanistan years ago to spy on Iran. The RQ-170s have been used to keep tabs on Iran’s nuclear and military facilities, and the fleet was also used to survey Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistan compound prior to the Seal Team Six raid in May.
According to the Washington Post, Iranian officials claim their military detected the drone over Kashmar, an eastern, agricultural Iranian town about 140 miles from the Afghanistan border. Iran is claiming it shot the drone down, but American officials are scoffing at those reports, saying the drone crashed on its own.
Sunday, Dec. 5: Iranian officials said Sunday they shot down an unmanned U.S. spy vehicle that crossed over into Iran’s eastern border, and that the type RQ10 drone sustained slight damage.
The BBC reports that an unnamed source told state media that response to the incident “will not be limited to Iran’s borders any more.”
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. are running high over Iran’s apparent nuclear power program, which U.S. officials fear is being used to develop weapons.
According to CNN, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said the drone “to which the Iranians are referring may be a U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week.”
The ISAF says vehicle operators lost control of the drone and were trying to determine what had happened to it.
Iran's claim comes soon after another difficult border dispute between the U.S. and Pakistan, after a NATO-led ISAF airstrike on supposed militants reportedly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last week.
Meanwhile Iran’s statements about drones aren’t exactly garnering a reputation of being truthful. On Friday, The Guardian published a report about an Iranian TV station faking dozens of accounts that U.S. drone strikes killed 1370 people in Somalia this year. The Bureau of Investigative journalism found no evidence of the incidents reported by Iran’s Press TV.