ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The chief of the Aerospace Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on Friday that it could have downed a US aircraft staffed with 35 persons along with the surveillance drone it shot down in the Gulf of Oman the day before.
“At the same time that the spy drone was intercepted, another spy plane by the name of P-8 was flying close to it and had 35 passengers,” said commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh, as quoted by the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency. “We could have downed it, but we did not do this.”
Early Thursday, the IRGC shot down the $130 million US Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone with a surface-to-air missile off the coast of the southern province of Hormozgan in the Gulf of Oman. Tehran insists the unit was over Iranian territory at the time but US officials say it was instead flying over international waters, with the Pentagon publishing schematics purported to show the plane's path and final position.
The IRGC later displayed what they claimed were pieces of the drone
Although US President Donald Trump issued a firm warning shortly after the incident, tweeting, “Iran made a very big mistake,” he later seemed to be diminishing Iran’s responsibility in comments made during a press briefing.
“Probably, Iran made a mistake,” Trump said. “I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down.” He also noted that there had been no personnel on the drone and that the action had resulted in no casualties.
If anyone had been on board, he said, “it would have made a big, big difference.”
The US president also stated on Friday that he had approved a military strike on an Iranian target but blocked the order at the last minute because it would have been a disproportionate response to Iran’s action.
“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General,” Trump wrote in a tweet.
“10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have reached all-time highs, a year after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and major world powers and imposed multiple rounds of sanctions that have severely limited Iran’s capacity for trade, notably its oil exports.
The US has repeatedly stated that it does not seek war with Iran but instead wants to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, possibly to work on a new deal. President Trump has been a firm critic of the earlier agreement, saying that it did not reign in Tehran’s “destabilizing” policies across the Middle East.
Amid Washington's growing security concerns for its allies and interests in the region, it recently added 1,000 troops to an already planned 1,500 personnel it says it is sending to the Middle East.
Editing by John J. Catherine