Iran’s military said on Sunday it had shot down a U.S. drone aircraft in eastern Iran, a military source told state television.
"Our air defence and electronic warfare units managed to identify and shoot down an advanced unmanned spy aircraft − an RQ-170 − after it briefly violated the eastern border territory," Fars said, quoting an unnamed military source.
The Fars news agency, which has close ties to the Revolutionary Guards responsible for Iran's air defence and ballistic missile systems, said the drone had made an incursion into Iran's eastern airspace.
“The spy drone, which has been downed with little damage, was seized by the Iranian armed forces,” the source added
Iran warned that shooting down U.S. drones, in response to U.S. violation of its airspace, would be carried out outside Iran’s borders, Fars agency reported.
Washington denies attack
But a U.S. official said later on Sunday that Washington had no indication that a drone that had crashed in Iran had actually been shot down.
“There is absolutely no indication up to this point that Iranians shot down this drone,” the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, the NATO-led force in Afghanistan said the drone the Iranians claim to have shot down may be an unarmed surveillance drone that was lost last week while flying over western Afghanistan.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said in a statement: “The UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to which the Iranians are referring may be a U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week.
“The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status.”
A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said: “There is absolutely no indication up to this point that Iranians shot down this drone.”
Drones are routinely used by U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency to observe military activity in the region.
U.S. drones have also been used to launch missile strikes in Yemen as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt, AFP reported.
At the start of this year, Iran had announced that its forces had downed two U.S. drones after they violated Iranian-controlled airspace and that it would put the aircraft on public display.
Iran has faced mounting international criticism over recent months.
Its relations with Britain were frayed last week when the British embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters shortly after London announced that it would impose sanctions on Iran’s central bank in connection with Iran’s controversial nuclear enrichment program.
Britain evacuated its diplomatic staff from Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats in London in retaliation, and several other EU members recalled their ambassadors from Tehran.
The attack dragged Iran’s relations with Europe to a long-time low.
Washington and EU countries have been discussing measures to restrict Iran’s oil exports since the United Nations nuclear watchdog issued a report in November with what it said was evidence that Tehran had worked on designing an atom bomb.
But Iranian officials have repeatedly refuted the accusations, arguing that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Tehran has the right to use the civilian nuclear technology, adding that their nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
Iran, which sits on the world’s second largest reserves of both oil and gas, has dismissed U.S. sanctions as inefficient, saying that it is finding Asian partners instead.
Several Chinese and other Asian firms are negotiating or signing up to oil and gas deals, Fars agency reported on Sunday.