WASHINGTON: United States President Donald Trump ordered military strikes against Iran in retaliation after Tehran shot down its surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching them, it was reported on Friday.
According to the New York Times (NYT), Trump initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries on Thursday night but withdrew it later.
In its report, the NYT claimed that intense discussions were held around 7 PM on Thursday at the White House over possible US response to Iran, which was attended by top military, diplomatic officials among the President’s top national security advisors and congressional leaders.
The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official was quoted as saying by the NYT.
He further claimed that the US military planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down.
The United States Central Command has earlier admitted that a Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (or BAMS-D) ISR aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system on June 19.
A statement issued by US Central Command said, ''We can confirm that a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (or BAMS-D) ISR aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 11:35 PM GMT on June 19, 2019.''
''Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,'' the statement added.
The Central Command said that Iran's shooting down of its drone was an ''unprovoked attack'' on a US surveillance asset in the international airspace.
''The BAMS-D is an RQ-4A Global Hawk High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) and provides real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions," Navy Capt. Bill Urban, US Central Command spokesman, said.
Meanwhile, several top US House Republican Senators, including leader Kevin McCarthy, had called for a ''measured response'' to Iran in this regard.
The Republicans said that the United States must undertake a "measured response" to Iran after Washington accused Tehran of shooting down a drone and attacking oil tankers.
"Iran directly attacked a United States asset over international waters. This provocation comes a week after they attacked and destroyed two commercial tankers in international waters," McCarthy and Representatives Michael McCaul, Mac Thornberry and Devin Nunes said in a statement.
Tensions between the United States and Iran has escalated to new levels after Tehran shot down an American drone on Thursday and pressure grew for retaliation by Washington testing US President`s assertions that he wanted to avoid a war.
President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday morning, "Iran made a big mistake. This drone was in international waters, clearly. We have it all documented scientifically not just words. And they made a very bad mistake".
Asked how the US would respond, Trump said, "You`ll find out".
Trump has said in the past that he does not want to go to war with Iran. He has generally opposed US military entanglements abroad and has sought to get out of Afghanistan and Syria.
Contradicting Trump, Tehran asserted that the drone was in Iranian territory when it was brought down.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said the US "RQ-4 Global Hawk" was brought down by its Air Force near the Kouh-e Mobarak region, which sits in the central district of Jask county, after the unmanned plane violated the Iranian airspace.
IRGC chief said, "The downing of the American drone was a clear message to America... Our borders are our red line and we will react strongly against any aggression". But he also said that Iran did not want a war.
The escalation comes in the wake of the attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz last week that the US said was carried out by Iran. Tehran, however, has denied it.
(With Agency inputs)