US President Donald Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for the downing of a US surveillance drone, but called off the attacks at the last minute, the New York Times reported.
After weeks of rising tension amid a spate of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, Iran said on Thursday it had shot down an unmanned US military surveillance drone, fanning fears of an overt military confrontation between the longtime adversaries.
In response, the New York Times quoted a senior administration official as saying US warplanes took to the air and ships were put in position for a retaliatory attack only for an order to come to stand down, without any weapons being fired, on Thursday night.
Targets had included Iranian radar and missile batteries, the paper cited senior administration officials involved in, or briefed on, the deliberations, as saying.
It was unclear if attacks on Iran might go ahead later, it added, nor was it known whether Trump had changed his mind or whether his administration had become concerned about logistics or strategy.
Given the heightened tensions, the US Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order on Thursday prohibiting US operators from flying in Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman until further notice.
Tehran said the unarmed Global Hawk surveillance drone was on a spy mission over its territory, but Washington said it was shot down over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz.
Trump said initially the downing of the drone could have been carried out by someone who was acting “loose and stupid,” adding that he suspected it was shot down by mistake.
“We had nobody in the drone. It would have made a big difference, let me tell you, it would have made a big, big difference” if the aircraft had been piloted, Trump said as he met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office.
Iranian state media said the “spy” drone was brought down over the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan, which is on the Gulf, with a locally made 3 Khordad missile.
Lieutenant General Joseph Guastella, the top US Air Force commander in the Middle East, told reporters the drone was shot down at high altitude about 34 kilometers from the nearest point of land on the Iranian coast.
US Central Command later posted a tweet that included a map of what Guastella called the drone’s flight path showing it was outside Iran’s territorial waters. “This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset that had not violated Iranian airspace at any time,” Guastella added.
Independent confirmation of the drone’s location when it was brought down was not immediately available.
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami accused Washington on Friday of trying to poison the world’s view of Tehran.
“Very complicated and suspicious conditions exist in the region,” Hatami told Iran’s Labour News Agency.
“It seems that all of this is in line with an overall policy for creating Iran phobia and creating a consensus against the Islamic Republic.” Reuters
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