Iran fired on a U.S. drone during its classified surveillance mission on Nov. 1, but the Pentagon did not disclose the incident until Nov. 8 -- perhaps giving warning to Iran that the U.S. could respond militarily, and that Iran's nuclear program will be a high priority for President Obama. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
Two Iranian jets fired on a U.S. military drone, Pentagon officials said Thursday — the first time such an action has been acknowledged by the United States.
At 4:50 a.m. EDT on Nov. 1, an Iranian SU-25 Frog Foot jet fired on a U.S. MQ-1 Predator drone that was conducting routine surveillance in international waters over the Arabian Gulf, Pentagon spokesman George Little said. The unarmed Predator was approximately 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coast when the Iranian jet began firing and was never in Iranian airspace, he said.
But a senior defense official said two Iranian ground-attack jets were involved in the incident. The jets circled the Predator several times, firing 30-millimeter cannons at the unarmed drone.
"We don't know why," the Iranians were shooting at the drone, the official said, insisting the drone did not cross into Iranian airspace. The drone was "conducting routine maritime surveillance, watching ships," the official said.
The Iranian jets followed the Predator for several miles before turning away. The drone returned safely to base and wasn't hit by the Iranian gunfire.
President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were notified of the incident early that morning, the Pentagon said. The White House would not comment on the incident, but a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News that Obama was told the day of the incident.
Asked whether the Iranian jet was firing warning shots, Little said the jet "fired to take it down." He would not speculate on whether this constitutes an act of war.
The United States informed the Iranians that the U.S. military will continue surveillance flights over the international waters of the Arabian Gulf. Little said that was communicated by the State Department through Swiss officials.
Asked why the incident is just being revealed now — more than one week after the incident and just two days after the presidential election — Little said that the Pentagon does not talk about classified missions. He said that the information had been leaked to the media so he is acknowledging it.
"There is absolutely no precedent" for an incident like this, he said.
The United States and its allies — concerned about what they believe is Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons program and potential threat to Israel — have imposed a series of sanctions in an effort to get Tehran to back down.
On Thursday, the State Department announced another set of U.S. sanctions targeting Iranian government officials and departments that it says have blocked the Internet and other media, and otherwise prevented freedom of information and expression among the populace.
NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker contributed to this report.
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