TAMPA: The United States Central Command has admitted that a US Navy surveillance aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system on June 19, leading to escalation of tensions between the two countries.
A statement issued by the US Central Command said, ''We can confirm that a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (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, have 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, "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".
At the same time, reflecting his reluctance for war, Trump left room for a compromise hinting that the Iranian leadership was not behind it. "I imagine someone made a mistake," he said and added that he thought it was someone "loose and stupid who did it."
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 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.
Trump, who opposes foreign military action, faces strong pressures from some in his administration and his party to attack Iran.
"If they`re itching for a fight, they`ll get one", Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said.
He warned, "Iran needs to get ready for severe pain inside their country. Their capability pales in comparison to ours. We won`t let them disrupt navigation of the seas, attack our allies and US interests without paying a price".
Another Republican Senator, Tom Cotton, in an interview to Politico, called for bombing Iran.
Trump`s National Security Adviser John Bolton has been advocating a strong action against Iran. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly told members of US Congress that Iran was linked to al-Qaeda creating a possible justification for war.
Iran has the capability to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 per cent of global oil production moves.
Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "I don`t think the President wants to go to war. There`s no
The current tensions began after Trump renounced the multinational agreement with Iran to stop nuclear proliferation. That pact was signed during his predecessor Barack Obama`s administration along with the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.
Trump imposed sanctions on Iran and on trade with it by others, affecting India`s oil purchases.
He has offered to hold talks with Iran, which has turned down the initiative.
On Monday Iran said that it had increased production of low-grade uranium and would exceed the limits set by the multi-party nuclear agreement that Trump has renounced.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that "the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf region".
His Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said, "He appeals to all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any action that can escalate the already tense situation".
(With Agency Inputs)