Pentagon Press Secretary George Little announced Thursday that a U.S. Predator drone was attacked by Iranian aircraft while flying over international territory in the Persian Gulf on November 1. In a speech to Pentagon press reporters, Little stated:
I can confirm that on November 1, at approximately 4:50 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, an unarmed, unmanned MQ-1 U.S. military aircraft conducting routine surveillance over the Arabian [Persian] Gulf, was intercepted by an Iranian SU-25 Frog-foot aircraft and was fired upon with guns.... The incident occurred over international waters, approximately 16 nautical miles off of the Iranian coastline. The MQ-1 was not hit, and returned to its base safely.
While providing few details of the alleged attack, Little continued:
The aircraft, once it came under fire at approximately the 16 nautical mile range, moved further out. The Iranian aircraft continued to pursue the MQ-1 for some period of time before letting it return to base.... We believe they fired at least twice and made at least two passes.
Three senior military officials, speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity, gave more details of the incident:
Two of the officials said the fighter jets belonged to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps force, which has been more confrontational than regular Iranian military forces. At least two bursts of gunfire came from the Su-25s' cannons, they said. The drone started to move away, but the Iranian aircraft chased it, doing aerial loops around it before breaking away and returning to Iran. The drone's still and video cameras captured the incident, showing the two Su-25s approaching and firing their onboard guns, the officials said.
The Iranian pilots continued to fire shots that went beneath the Predator but never hit it, according to the officials. U.S. military intelligence analysts are still not sure if the Iranian pilots simply were unable to hit the drone because of a lack of combat skill, or if they deliberately missed and didn't intend to bring it down. But as one of the officials said, "It doesn't matter; they fired on us."
Iran's territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from the Iranian coast, so if, as the Pentagon alleged, the attack took place 16 nautical miles from the Iranian coastline, this would have been outside Iran's territory. Little also insisted that the drone never flew into Iranian territory:
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Photo of U.S. MQ-1 Predator drone