Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US loses drone over Syria

SPY PLANE:US officials confirmed that the drone was destroyed, but said they could not corroborate reports that it had been shot down by Syrian forces

Reuters, WASHINGTON and BEIRUT

A US Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile waits on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport in Afghanistan on June 13, 2010.

Photo: AFP

The US lost one of its Predator drone aircraft over northwest Syria on Tuesday, US officials said, as Syrian state media outlets reported that the nation’s air defenses brought down the spy plane in the Syrian government-controlled Latakia Province.

If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces took down the US aircraft — something US officials said was not immediately certain — it would raise the stakes in the US-led bombing campaign against Islamic State militants that began in Syria in late September last year.

The US has previously described al-Assad’s air defenses as “passive,” meaning that they have not engaged the US-led coalition’s aircraft as US and other planes carry out strikes against militants.

The US air strikes have not targeted al-Assad’s forces or military infrastructure.

Tuesday’s incident took place at about 7:40pm, when the US lost contact with an unarmed MQ-1 Predator aircraft operating over northwest Syria, a US official said.

A second US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aircraft took off from a base in Turkey and a third official confirmed it was operating over Latakia.

A fourth US official said the aircraft was destroyed, but US officials were not ready to say what happened — much less whether al-Assad’s forces might have engaged the aircraft. They said the cause of the incident was unclear.

“At this time, we have no information to corroborate press reports that the aircraft was shot down,” the first US official said, asking to be described only as a defense official. “We are looking into the incident and will provide more details when available.”

It was the first such incident since the US-led coalition began carrying out air strikes against the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, first in Iraq in August last year and then in Syria late the following month.

However, it was not the first loss of a coalition aircraft in Syria.

In December last year, a Jordanian pilot was captured by Islamic State militants after his warplane came down in northeast Syria. The militants released a video last month showing the pilot being burned alive in a cage.

Earlier, Syrian state news agency SANA said its air defenses brought down a US spy plane, without specifying what model of aircraft.

“Syrian air defenses brought down a hostile US surveillance plane in northern Latakia,” SANA said in a bulletin, without elaborating.

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