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Iran shoots down American drone in international airspace in 'unprovoked attack,' US says

Key Points
  • The downing of the drone was first announced by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards on its website, Sepah News.
  • A U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance drone was shot down in international airspace, according to the Pentagon, which has called the incident an unprovoked attack.
  • Crude oil prices jump on news of the attack.
An undated U.S. Air Force handout photo of a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned (drone) aircraft.
U.S. Air Force | Bobbi Zapka via Reuters

DUBAI — An Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone Thursday in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz in an "unprovoked attack," U.S. officials said, disputing Iranian reports that the aircraft was over its territory.

The downing came amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran since the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement last year. The U.S. has accused Iran of recent attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region, allegations the Iranians deny.

"U.S. Central Command can confirm that a U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (or BAMS-D) ISR aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 11:35 p.m. GMT on June 19, 2019," Navy Capt. Bill Urban, U.S. Central Command spokesman, said in a statement.

Brent crude jumped on the news in early morning trading, up 2.86%, or $1.77, at $63.59 a barrel at 7:50 a.m. ET. The U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate was up 3.55%. The Strait of Hormuz is a critical conduit for 30% of the world's seaborne oil.

The downing was first announced by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards on its website, Sepah News. The Iranian outlet claimed the Revolutionary Guards had shot down a U.S. "spy drone" over the southern province of Hormozgan.

"The downing of the American drone was a clear message to America. ... Our borders are Iran's red line and we will react strongly against any aggression," Major Gen. Hossein Salami, the recently appointed chief of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told Iranian state TV. "Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran."

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A U.S. Centcom spokesperson later responded to the charges saying that "No U.S. drone was operating in Iranian airspace today."

"Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false," the Centcom statement said. "This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace."

The BAMS-D is an RQ-4A Global Hawk High-Altitude, Long, Endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft system. The Pentagon describes it as capable of providing "real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over vast ocean and coastal regions."

The downing follows a series of rapid escalations in the last week, including attacks on foreign merchant tankers in the Gulf of Oman that Washington has blamed on Tehran. While both countries' leaders maintain that they do not want war, the rise in tensions in a region bristling with military hardware has prompted fears of an accident or miscalculation triggering a wider conflict.

A still image from surveillance video provided by the U.S. military shows what they say is a drone being shot down over the Strait of Hormuz, June 20, 2019.
U.S. Department of Defense via Reuters

Iran has rejected U.S. accusations of its culpability in last week's suspected tanker attacks, which crippled a Norwegian and a Japanese-owned vessel and forced their crews to abandon ship. Under the weight of an economic crisis largely brought on by American sanctions, experts have pointed to a number of reasons Iran might want to carry out such activity, with particular reference to its history of unconventional warfare.

Tensions have spiked between the U.S. and Iran in the year since the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal and reimposed sweeping economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.