Entries in Drones (22)


Iranian Fighter Jets Fire on US Predator Drone

File photo. U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julianne Showalter(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon disclosed Thursday that an unarmed U.S. military Predator surveillance drone was fired at by Iranian military jets last week in international airspace over the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Officials stressed that the U.S. drone had never entered Iranian territory and that the entire incident occurred in international airspace. The drone was not hit by the plane's gunfire and was able to return to its undisclosed base in the region.

At a Pentagon briefing, spokesman George Little told reporters that the incident had occurred last Thursday at approximately 4:50 a.m. Eastern Time when an unarmed Predator drone "conducting routine surveillance" over the Gulf "was intercepted by Iranian Su-25 Frogfoot aircraft and was fired upon with guns."

The incident occurred 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coastline, said Little. The internationally recognized territorial limit of waters and airspace begins 12 nautical miles from a nation's coastline. Though Little did not disclose where the incident occurred, a Defense official told ABC News that it occurred in the northern part of the Persian Gulf east of Kuwait.

The White House and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were informed of the incident as soon as it happened, as were relevant members of Congress. The incident was not disclosed until today when CNN was first to reveal the details of the incident. Little said that the Pentagon does not talk about classified missions like the one the Predator was undertaking, but decided to go public with details following "the unauthorized leak."

Little said that the United States communicated to Iran via Swiss intermediaries that "we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters over the Arabian Gulf consistent with long-standing practice."

Little described last Thursday's incident as the first time that an unmanned American aircraft has been shot at over the international waters of the Persian Gulf.

When asked if the United States considered the shooting an "act of war," Little said he was "not going to get into legal labels." He added, "The reality is that we have a wide range of options, as I said before, to protect our assets and our forces in the region and will do so when necessary." He later acknowledged that no manned American aircraft had responded to the incident.

The spokesman said that Iranian Su-25 "Frogfoot" aircraft intercepted the drone in international waters and then fired at it with machine guns. The shots missed and the drone moved beyond the 16 nautical-mile range and it was fired upon again though the shots once again missed. At that point "the Iranian aircraft continued to pursue the MQ-1 for some period of time before letting it return to base." Little believed that the Iranian jets tailed the drone for at least "several miles."

When asked if the Iranian misses may have been "warning shots," Little replied, "Our working assumption is that they fired to take it down. You'll have to ask the Iranians why they engaged in this action."

"We believe that they fired at least twice," he added, "and made at least two passes." A Defense official told ABC News that the approaching Iranian aircraft were spotted by one of the cameras aboard the drone. After the first strafing run the official says the Iranian aircraft made a circular pass around the drone to get in position for another strafing run.

Little said that the Pentagon had not disclosed the incident until Thursday's CNN report because it doesn't talk about classified surveillance missions undertaken by drones. "There is absolutely no precedence for this, so this is the first time that a UAV has been fired upon, to our knowledge, by Iranian aircraft. So I wouldn't draw any parallels between this and past incidents. We routinely do not advertise our classified surveillance missions."

Little downplayed the idea that the White House might have asked the Pentagon to not talk about the incident for political reasons given it occurred so close to the upcoming election. "We don't typically comment on classified surveillance missions," he said. "And I'm not going to get into discussions at the classified level that occurred between this department and the White House. They were informed early on."

An unmanned RQ-170 surveillance drone crashed in Iran last December. At the time Iran claimed that it had been shot down, but U.S. officials said a technical malfunction had brought the aircraft down while conducting a secret surveillance mission over Iran for the CIA.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hezbollah: That Was Our 'Iran-Made' Drone Over Israel

Salah Malkawi/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The leader of Hezbollah claimed Thursday his group was responsible for an unidentified drone that flew deep into Israeli airspace on Saturday before it was shot out of the sky by the Israeli Air Force, and that the aircraft was Iranian-made.

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the militant Lebanon-based group, made the revelations in a televised address Thursday and boasted that the drone had been able to fly hundreds of kilometers undetected before it entered Israel, then tens of kilometers over Israel before it was eventually shot down.

"Today we are uncovering a small part of our capabilities, and we shall keep many more hidden," Nasrallah said, adding that it is Hezbollah's "natural right" and the group "can reach any place we want."

He said the drone was able to film strategic and sensitive Israeli facilities -- it was downed near the Dimona nuclear facility -- and claimed that his group plans to put more drones in the air over Israel. In addition to surveillance drones like this one, he said some of Hezbollah's drones could be armed as well.

The Israeli military said the drone entered Israel from the Mediterranean Sea, flying over the Gaza Strip and then the Negev desert before it was shot down south of the West Bank. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said it had not detected any drone flying from Lebanese airspace into Israeli airspace on Saturday.

A Lebanese television station close to Hezbollah had reported the drone was Hezbollah's but Nasrallah's address was the first official claim. Shortly after Israel downed the drone, fighter jets streaked over southern Lebanon, causing a sonic boom, according to Lebanese media. Israel crossing into Lebanese air space, however, is a common occurrence, a fact reiterated by Nasrallah.

Nasrallah said the weekend's drone was assembled by Lebanese experts but made in Iran, which has a much-publicized drone development program. Following the Israeli destruction of the drone, an Iranian commander said the incident had shown the "weakness and inefficiency" of Israeli defense systems.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his country's military for taking the drone out and said Israel will "continue to defend our borders by sea, land, and air to guarantee the security of our citizens."

In apparent response to the drone incursion, earlier this week Israel deployed Patriot missile batteries to Haifa, some 20 miles from Lebanon's southern border.

Ted Harshberger, director of Project Air Force at the RAND Corporation thinktank, wrote in U.S. News and World Report that the incident should not have come as a surprise considering how easy it is to develop relatively unsophisticated drones.

"Practically any country that aspires to an indigenous aviation industry (as most countries do, even if only for national pride) has a reasonably capable, medium-altitude unmanned drone system in development or flying already," he wrote.

In his address, Nasrallah also denied widespread reports that Hezbollah fighters are in Syria fighting for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and that they'd been killed. He said there were "Lebanese villages" inside Syria, apparently meaning villages that straddle the border, and that some of the 30,000 residents of the villages had taken up arms to defend themselves. If Hezbollah goes to fight in Syria, Nasrallah said, the group would make it public.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Drone Strike Kills Suspected Militants in Northwest Pakistan

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ISLAMABAD) -- A two-missile attack on a compound in northwestern Pakistan killed four alleged militants, according to preliminary reports.

The identities of those killed in Tuesday's air strike were not immediately known.

This latest offensive comes two days after Pakistan, at the NATO summit in Chicago, renewed its demand to stop drone attacks.

Pakistan maintains that drone attacks are impacting its relations with the United States, whereas the U.S. says that drone attacks are the most effective tool against militants hiding in the tribal areas.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Escalates Drone War on Al Qaeda in Yemen

JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The United States is intensifying its strikes in Yemen and increasing its presence there as it pursues al Qaeda.

Two suspected U.S. drone strikes killed 11 suspected al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen last Saturday, according to military officials in the country.  The news comes on the heels of an escalation in drone activity.

Just two days earlier, two airstrikes in southern Yemen killed seven, including two top al Qaeda leaders.  And merely a week ago, a drone strike killed Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, the Yemeni al Qaeda operative responsible for 2000′s USS Cole bombing.

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The strike Saturday near the border of Marib and Shabwa provinces is the third to have been carried out this month.  The United States conducted six airstrikes in March and at least six more in April against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the militant Islamist organization primarily active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  In fact, there have been nearly as many drone strikes already this year as there were all of last year.

Last week, the Pentagon announced that they had resumed sending troops to Yemen to train the country’s counterterrorism forces.  The move comes after a suspension of training following the political upheaval that ousted former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

While the United States still has a long way to go, it’s making progress, according to former CIA and FBI official Philip Mudd.

“We’ve gone into the network of the organization,” Mudd said, referring to al Qaeda groups.  “The same strategy it seems to me is now being applied in Yemen.  That is, look at the entire organization, not just a few leaders, and decimate it from the inside.”

While the escalation in drone strikes is not aimed at any one terrorist, officials would undoubtedly like to get Ibrahim al-Asiri, a Saudi bomb maker adept at breaching aviation security.  The Yemen-based Asiri has drawn Defense Department scrutiny for his ability to fashion bombs using hard-to-detect chemicals and hiding them in equipment and clothing.

U.S. officials believe al-Asiri is the man behind the underwear bomb used by a Nigerian man to try and detonate an aircraft over the United States in 2009.  He’s believed to be plotting another attack, putting his ingenious chemical bombs in cameras, hard drives and, surprisingly to some, surgically implanting them in pets and even people.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pakistan Again Calling for End to US Drone Strikes

Stocktrek Images/Getty Images(ISLAMABAD) -- As relations between Washington and Islamabad are close to bottoming out, Pakistan is again demanding that the U.S. cease all drone strikes in its territory, claiming they are a violation of national sovereignty.

The issue came up again on Thursday as Marc Grossman, special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, began holding talks again with Pakistani officials.

During a joint news conference with the American official, Pakistan's foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani told reporters, "We consider drones as illegal, non-productive and accordingly unacceptable.  This is an issue which also has been discussed at the highest civilian and military leadership."

While Washington has never formally acknowledged the use of unmanned CIA predator drones, U.S. operations to go after Taliban and al Qaeda leaders residing in Pakistan's northwestern region have picked up significantly since President Obama took office three years ago.

However, drone strikes have tailed off since an incident last November when 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO war jets in a "friendly fire" attack Obama has never officially apologized for.

Grossman's mission actually has more to do with reopening supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan that coalition forces need to receive weapons.

He told reporters, "We are ready to get to the work.  We want to work to reopen the ground lines of communication.  We want to discuss several outstanding claims for the coalition support fund."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


CIA Drone Strike Kills Al Qaeda Leader

File photo. (Stocktrek Images/Getty Images)(WASHINGTON) -- Yemen has confirmed that a top member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed in a weekend airstrike that U.S. officials say was conducted by the CIA, another sign that the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen is gaining momentum.

A statement released by the Embassy of Yemen in Washington, D.C., said that Mohammed Al-Umda was killed by an airstrike on Sunday. The strike targeted the SUV he was riding in as part of a "militant convoy" in a remote desert region of southern Yemen. He was among three individuals killed in the attack.

The embassy statement does not identify who conducted the airstrike, but U.S. officials say the airstrike was conducted by a CIA drone. Both the CIA and the U.S. military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) fly Predator drones over Yemen targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives.

Al-Umda is described in the Yemeni Embassy statement as one of AQAP's "top commanders, tasked with providing logistical and financial support" and as having commanded a number of AQAP's military operations in Yemen. He is described in the embassy statement as having been "ranked 4th on Yemen's most wanted list."

According to the website The Long War Journal, which tracks U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, the U.S. has carried out at least six airstrikes in Yemen in the month of April, for a total of 13 so far this year. This year's totals have already surpassed the 10 conducted all of last year in Yemen.

Though counter-terrorism ties between the United States and Yemen's government have continued to be strong, U.S. counter-terror training was suspended last May during the long popular uprising against Yemeni president Ali Saleh. A U.S. official said the training was suspended because the units American military trainers had been assisting were being used by the government in military operations. Following a year of violent protests, Saleh officially stepped down at the end of February.

The Washington Post reported last week that the CIA is now seeking to expand its drone targeting program over Yemen beyond targeted "personality" strikes to include "signature" strikes that target patterns of suspicious behavior by terrorism suspects. Officials with knowledge of the request told the paper that the White House has still not decided whether to approve the request.

Al-Umda was convicted and imprisoned for his role in the bombing attack in 2003 of the French oil tanker Limburg in the Gulf of Aden. He was one of the 23 suspected or convicted al Qaeda members who in February, 2006 tunneled their way out of the Yemeni prison in which they were being held.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Panetta Scoffs at Iran Claim It Copied US Spy Drone

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta scoffed at the Iranian government's claim that it had recovered data from a downed U.S. spy drone and made a working copy of the spy craft.

"I don't want to get into the particulars of that program," Panetta told reporters during a flight to Bogota, Colombia Monday, "but I think I can tell you based on my experience that I would seriously question their ability to do what they say they have done."

The U.S. stealth drone, an RQ-170 Sentinel, was on a mission for the CIA when fell into the hands of the Iranian military in December 2011. Iranian authorities, who displayed the craft on television, claimed they had brought the drone down electronically after it entered Iranian airspace, but U.S. officials said it had been flying over Western Afghanistan when its operators lost control.

On Sunday, Iranian officials claimed publicly that they had begun building a copy of the Sentinel, had broken its internal codes and extracted detailed data.

"The Americans should be aware to what extent we have infiltrated the plane," said Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. "Our experts have full understanding of its components and programs."

Hajizadeh claimed that the accessed data showed the drone had flown over Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in April 2011, two weeks before the al Qaeda leader's death in a U.S. raid, and that it had been sent back to California twice in 2010 for repairs.

"Had we not accessed the plane's software and hard discs, we wouldn't have been able to achieve these facts," Hajizadeh said.

After the Iranian claims were made public Sunday, a U.S. official told ABC News that reverse engineering the drone would be a difficult feat, one even China would have a difficult time achieving.

According to Iran's Fars News Agency, many countries have asked for technical information about the Sentinel, "but Moscow and Beijing have been most aggressive in their pursuit of details."

The U.S. has asked for the drone to be returned, but Iran has refused.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pakistan Demands End to Drone Attacks and an Apology from US

Photos [dot] com/George Doyle/Thinkstock(ISLAMABAD) -- The Pakistani parliament made two major demands of the U.S. on Tuesday that the Obama administration will likely ignore.

First, lawmakers want an end to unmanned drone attacks in their country that the CIA and Pentagon have undertaken to kill high profile members of the Taliban and al Qaeda hiding out in the northwestern region of Pakistan.

Parliament also called on the White House to issue an unconditional apology for the NATO attack that killed 24 soldiers last November.  This incident has further strained relations between Washington and Islamabad.

At the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland seemed to gloss over these latest developments with the Pakistani parliament, instead saying, "We have always considered that our relationship should be grounded on the basis of mutual respect and common interest."

President Obama has already expressed his condolences about the deaths of Pakistani soldiers but stopped short of a formal apology.  A Pentagon report of the incident found over-reaction from both sides when a joint U.S. and Afghan patrol came under fire by Pakistani troops.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Iraqis Upset with US Drone Flights

Stocktrek Images/Getty Images (file photo)(BAGHDAD) -- The Iraqi government is not pleased that the U.S. is flying unmanned surveillance drones over its country.

As first reported in The New York Times, the State Department confirmed that flights occur in an effort to protect as many as 16,000 diplomatic and personnel workers in the U.S. Embassy -- the largest such mission in the world.

While the Pentagon withdrew virtually all of its forces out of Iraq at the end of last year, the drones have taken on some of the responsibilities previously assigned to the military.

They are not the same Predator and Reaper drones that are used by the CIA to conduct missions in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia but unarmed, smaller aircraft with far shorter wingspans.

However, acting Iraqi Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi was adamant that, "Our sky is our sky, not the USA's sky."

What has particularly angered the Iraqis is that they were apparently not consulted about the operations beforehand.  Some regard it as a violation of their nation's sovereignty following more than eight years of foreign occupation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Lull in US Drone Strikes Aiding Enemy in Pakistan

Stocktrek Images/Getty Images(ISLAMABAD) -- Fewer U.S. drone strikes against enemy targets in Pakistan recently have allowed the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other extremists groups to become stronger and more dangerous.

There were close to 120 missile attacks by the CIA in 2010, according to website The Long War Journal, but that number shrunk in half last year, as the Obama administration bowed to pressure from Pakistan.  The White House and Pentagon do not comment directly on drone strikes.

The Pakistani government has repeatedly objected to the drone strikes, calling them a violation of their sovereignty.  For the past two months, the CIA has held off on these missile attacks because of an incident near the border with Afghanistan in November that left two dozen Pakistani soldiers dead.

Islamic militants have used this lull and the overall cutback in drone strikes in general to smooth over the differences of rival factions and regroup. The results have been more assaults on Pakistani security forces and greater threats against U.S. and Afghan troops next door.

Still, U.S. officials, while conceding that the CIA has conducted fewer drone strikes, maintain that they could resume in earnest at any time in order to exploit their enemies' complacency.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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