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Iran televises what it says is downed U.S. drone

Lodges complaint over violation of its airspace

- Associated Press - Thursday, December 8, 2011

TEHRAN Iranian state TV broadcast video Thursday of what it said was the high-tech U.S. drone that Tehran says its forces downed earlier this week. The government also lodged a diplomatic complaint over the violation of its airspace.

More than two minutes of footage showed Iranian military officials inspecting what state TV identified as the RQ-170 Sentinel drone. It offered the first evidence that Tehran had captured the aircraft, a beige-colored drone that appeared intact and undamaged.

The chief of the aerospace division of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Ami Ali Hajizadeh, claimed Iranian forces brought down the surveillance aircraft with an electronic ambush, causing minimum damage to the drone.

"It was downed through a joint operation by the Guards and Iran's regular army," he told state television.

Tehran appeared to be using the video footage to score propaganda points. A banner at the foot of the drone in the video read, "The U.S. cannot do a damn thing" - a quotation from Iran's late supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Another banner was printed to look like the American flag, but it had skulls instead of stars.

In Washington, Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said U.S. military officials and others were studying the imagery but would have no further comment.

"We're just not going to talk about these kinds of missions and these kinds of capabilities," he said.

Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador on Thursday to protest the drone's "invasion" of Iranian airspace, according to state TV. It said the ministry demanded an explanation and compensation from Washington. Switzerland represents U.S. interests here because Iran and the United States have no diplomatic relations.

Iran first reported the downing on Sunday but did not say when the incident happened. At the time, the official IRNA news agency said Iran's armed forces had shot it down, a claim later rejected by U.S. officials who said the drone crashed over the weekend.

Iranian state radio has said the unmanned aircraft was detected over the eastern town of Kashgar, some 140 miles from the border with Afghanistan.

The RQ-170 Sentinel, made by Lockheed Martin, has been used in Afghanistan for years. It gained notoriety earlier this year when officials disclosed that one was used to keep watch over Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan as the raid that killed him was taking place.

The aircraft is equipped with stealth technology, but the U.S. Air Force has not made public any specifics about the drone.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject matter, have said they are not sure what the Iranians will be able to glean technologically from what they found. It is unlikely that Iran would be able to recover any surveillance data from the aircraft.

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