Veiled Iranian female students at a demonstration Saturday in Tehran to… (Vahid Salemi / Associated…)
Reporting from Tehran and Beirut — Iran's armed forces brought down a U.S. drone that officials said had violated the country's airspace along the eastern border, Iranian media reported Sunday.
The aircraft suffered minor damage and was in the possession of the armed forces, according to an Iranian military official quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's U.S.-led force in neighboring Afghanistan said Iranian authorities might be referring to an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance plane that went missing during a mission in western Afghanistan late last week.
"The operators of the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status," NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said in a brief statement.
Some initial reports out of Iran suggested the drone had been shot down. But the semiofficial Fars news agency, which is close to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, quoted a military official as saying that Iran's electronic-cyber warfare unit had managed to take control of the aircraft and bring it "under their possession."
The official told Fars that Iran's response "will not be limited to the country's borders."
Iranian officials identified the aircraft as an RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone, which is made by Lockheed Martin. The United States has not confirmed using the Sentinel, although at least one was reportedly monitoring Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan during the raid that killed the Al Qaeda leader in May.
Iranian news agencies did not immediately publish images of the allegedly downed craft.
Iranian officials have made similar claims before. In July, a lawmaker said the Revolutionary Guard had shot down a U.S. drone that was trying to gather information on an underground uranium-enrichment site near the city of Qom, according to wire service reports. But the Guard later denied the report, saying its air defenses had only hit a test target.
Iran's already strained relations with the United States and its allies over Tehran's disputed nuclear program worsened last week after hard-line protesters ransacked the British Embassy and a diplomatic residential compound in Tehran.
Britain shut down the embassy Wednesday and gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave London. Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands temporarily recalled their ambassadors from Tehran in solidarity with Britain.
On Thursday, the European Union imposed new sanctions on 180 Iranian individuals, companies and organizations in response to an International Atomic Energy Agency report alleging that Tehran had pressed ahead with tests aimed at building a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Zavis from Beirut.