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Iranian TV shows images of 'downed' U.S. drone

December 08, 2011|By Ramin Mostaghim, Alexandra Zavis and David S. Cloud | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Iranian television aired footage Thursday of what it said is an American radar-evading drone that the country's armed forces recovered during the weekend.

The bat-winged aircraft appeared to be in good condition, based on the footage. It was displayed on a platform decorated with a banner saying "We'll trample America underfoot" and a U.S. flag with skulls instead of stars. The authenticity of the footage could not be verified.

Pentagon officials refused to confirm whether the aircraft seen in the video was a U.S. drone. "I am not commenting at all," said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little.

But other officials said privately that the aircraft shown on Iranian television resembled an RQ-170 Sentinel, the kind of drone Iran's armed forces said Sunday had been brought down after it violated the country's airspace along the eastern border.

U.S. experts were studying the Iranian video, officials said, adding that the drone the U.S. acknowledged it lost late last week was still not in U.S. possession.

"We haven't recovered the drone that we believe is missing," said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.

Iran's armed forces said Sunday that their electronic warfare unit managed to take control of a Sentinel and steer it to the ground. The aircraft was detected over the eastern town of Kashmar, about 140 miles from the border with Afghanistan, Iranian media reported.

A senior U.S. official told The Times that the drone was on a mission for the CIA, raising fears that its sophisticated technology could be exploited by Tehran or shared with other American rivals.

Iranian officials have seized on the incident to promote the prowess of their armed forces at a time of deepening diplomatic isolation and growing Iranian anger over the Western campaign to stop the country's nuclear program. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of working to develop an atomic weapon, a charge denied by Iran, which maintains its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

Esmail Kosari, the conservative deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, described the reported downing of the drone as a "blow to the arrogant power" of the U.S.

"Now the United States can see that after 31 years of sanctions after sanctions Iran has achieved a lot in its military industry," Kosari said.

On Thursday, Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador to protest "the violation of its airspace," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. The United States does not have diplomatic representation in the country, so its affairs are handled by the Swiss envoy.

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