Iran Claims U.S. Drones Retreated After Shoot-Down Warning

The Iranian military has claimed that American drones heeded a shoot-down warning issued during planned drills along the country's coastline, leaving the area rather than risking a repeat of the June 2019 incident in which Iranian forces destroyed a U.S. reconnaissance drone.

Iran's three-day Zolfaghar 99 drill began Thursday. The naval exercises will take place in more than 772,000 square miles in the Strait of Hormuz, Makran coast, Oman Sea and the north Indian Ocean, Iran's Mehr News Agency reported.

Rear Admiral Shahram Irani—the spokesperson for the exercise—told reporters Thursday that Iran's air defense force had warned all foreign drones to avoid the area during the planned drills.

"The Air Defense Force warned all foreign drones flying near the exercise site to leave the general area of Zolfaghar drill," Irani said. "Since then, we have been witnessing a noticeable change in the activities of American drones."

Irani said Iranian drones and aircraft had been monitoring foreign activity around Iran's coasts. He accused the U.S. of flying "continuous" drone missions and sending naval patrols to collect information on the Zolfaghar exercises.

"These activities were discovered by the army's signal recognition systems, and the drones were warned by the air defense," Irani told reporters. "They were forced to leave the area after seeing the level of readiness of the surveillance, identification and defense systems."

Irani did not provide any evidence to support the assertion. Newsweek has contacted U.S. Central Command—responsible for American operations in the region—to request comment on the reports.

The Iranian military has a history of exaggerating reports to malign U.S. operations in the region, and regularly uses disinformation to try and undermine the U.S. and divert attention from its own operations.

Iranian forces shot down a U.S. reconnaissance drone in June last year, amid high tensions between the two nations over the strategic Strait of Hormuz—a narrow portion of the Persian Gulf through which around a quarter of the world's oil passes.

The U.S. claimed the RQ-4A Global Hawk was flying over international waters when destroyed, while Iran said it was in Iranian airspace. Iranian troops later displayed the wreckage of the downed drone on state television.

The incident almost prompted a U.S. strike on Iranian anti-air defense sites. President Donald Trump claims to have ordered the mission, before pulling back at the last minute when informed of the likely number of Iranian casualties.

Then, Trump warned that the Iranians "made a very big mistake." Though the president called off the retaliatory airstrike, the U.S. did launch cyber attacks against Iran and introduced new sanctions on the country.

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This file photo shows an American RQ-4 Global Hawk landing at Misawa Air Base, Japan, on May 24, 2014 Staff Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb/U.S. Air Force