TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran claimed Tuesday it had captured a U.S. drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf— even showing an image of a purportedly downed craft on state TV — but the U.S. Navy said all its unmanned aircraft in the region were "fully accounted for."
The conflicting accounts still leave the possibility that the drone claimed by Iran, a Boeing-designed ScanEagle, could have been plucked from the sea in the past and unveiled for maximum effect following escalating tensions over U.S. surveillance missions in the Gulf.
Other countries in the region — such as the United Arab Emirates — also have ScanEagle drones in their fleets.
Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said ScanEagles operated by the Navy "have been lost into the water" over the years, but there is no "record of that occurring most recently."
The Iranian announcement did not give details on the time or location of the claimed drone capture.
It's certain, however, to be portrayed by Tehran as another bold challenge to U.S. reconnaissance efforts in the region. Last month, the Pentagon said a drone came under Iranian fire in the Gulf but was not harmed. A year ago, Iran managed to bring down an unmanned CIA spy drone possibly coming from Afghanistan.
Iran also has recently alleged repeated airspace violations by U.S. drones, which Washington denies.
"The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region," said Salata. "Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized waters and airspace."
Iran claimed it captured the drone after it entered Iranian airspace. A report on state TV quoted the navy chief of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Ali Fadavi, as saying the Iranian forces caught the "intruding" drone, which had apparently taken off from a U.S. aircraft carrier.