NICOSIA, Cyprus — The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards said Saturday that Tehran is making its own version of the U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missile, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
Mohsen Rafighdost, head of the Revolutionary Guards, told a news conference that Iran had previously obtained Stinger missiles and is successfully copying them, IRNA reported. It gave no other details.
The news agency had reported earlier that Iranian forces in patrol boats fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles at U.S. helicopter gunships attacking them in the Persian Gulf on Thursday.
The statement puzzled military experts and led to speculation as to how the portable missiles could have reached Iranian hands. The experts said the United States had very tight export controls on Stingers.
However, on Thursday, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger confirmed for the first time that Iran possesses the sophisticated missiles.
The London Sunday Times and official U.S. sources said the highly effective missiles were purchased from an Afghan rebel group, which had been provided the Stingers to fight Soviet troops and the Kremlin-backed regime in Afghanistan.
A Pentagon official said that no Stinger launchers or missiles were found on the destroyed Iranian boats but that cables, batteries and other equipment used with the missiles were found among the debris.
"If (the Iranians) get a chance to use those things, they could wreak havoc in the gulf region," said an Administration official, who declined to be identified.
Rafighdost, the Revolutionary Guards minister, said the United States is trying to save face by repeating its denials that U.S. forces suffered any losses during Thursday's clash, IRNA reported.
Military Superiority at Stake
He said it would be a great defeat for Washington to admit that one of its helicopters was hit because it regarded its modern helicopters as a sign of its military superiority.
The United States has denied Iranian reports that a U.S. helicopter was shot down or that it suffered any casualties in the clash, in which two Iranian Revolutionary Guards were killed and an Iranian patrol boat was sunk.
Each side has accused the other of opening fire first.