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Trump announces downing of Iranian unmanned aircraft: 'The drone was immediately destroyed'

WASHINGTON — President Trump announced that a U.S. Navy ship downed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday. The incident comes as tensions between the U.S. and Iran have sharply escalated in recent weeks.

“I want to apprise everyone of an incident in the Strait of Hormuz today involving USS Boxer, a Navy amphibious assault ship,” Trump said. “The Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone, which had closed into a very, very near distance, approximately 1,000 yards, ignoring multiple calls to stand down.”

The Iranian drone was “threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew,” Trump said. “The drone was immediately destroyed,” he added.

Trump discussed the incident at an unrelated ceremony where visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte presented the president with an American flag that flew on a U.S. vessel during the D-Day operations in 1944.

Late last month, Iran shot down a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran claimed the drone had entered Iranian airspace, but American officials said it was flying over international waters. Several former U.S. officials subsequently told Yahoo News that, while it was unlikely that the drone did actually enter Iranian airspace, American drones have previously been flown over Iran.

The drone downings haven’t been the only signs of aggression in the region. The U.S. has accused Iran of attacking commercial ships in the strait, a thin passage between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman that is one of the world’s key oil export routes.

The latest incident occurred at about 10 a.m. local time, according to a statement from Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman that the Pentagon emailed to reporters following the president’s impromptu announcement. “A fixed wing unmanned aerial system (UAS) approached Boxer and closed within threatening range” as the American ship was in international waters transiting the Strait of Hormuz, according to Hoffman. “The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew.”

A Central Command spokesman was unable to say how the Boxer took the drone down, but CNN reporter Ryan Browne said in a tweet that U.S. Marines aboard the Boxer brought it down using jamming equipment.

The Navy’s website also lists a range of antiaircraft missiles and automatic weapons at the ship’s disposal.

The USS Boxer. (Photo: Sebastian D'Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

This was far from the first time that Iranian drones have approached U.S. Navy ships entering the Persian Gulf. “We got the normal welcome from the Iranians, UAVs overflights, exactly as we trained for; no surprises there,” Capt. Jack Killman told a Navy conference in October, according to a U.S. Naval Institute News report. “The small boats [and] the UAVs are definitely out there tracking us.” Killman served with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group when it entered the Gulf in June 2018.

The recent incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, which have sharpened fears of a potential military conflict between the two countries, occurred against the backdrop of the fraying Iranian nuclear deal. That agreement, which imposed limits on Iran’s nuclear program, was reached in 2015 between Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and Germany. In May 2018, Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement, which he called a “disastrous” deal that would not prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Since then, while European countries have tried to keep the agreement together, Iran has begun enriching greater quantities of uranium than the deal would have allowed.

Following the downing of the American drone last month, Trump said he considered a retaliatory strike on Iran, but called it off at the last minute because he felt the casualties would be excessive. Instead, he authorized a cyberattack against Iran.

While Trump has campaigned on the idea of reducing American military involvement in the Middle East, his administration includes several high-ranking officials who have notably hawkish views on Iran, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton. Just prior to the shootdown of the U.S. drone last month, a senior Trump administration official told Yahoo News the president’s Iran strategy is focused on applying “maximum economic pressure” through sanctions. However, the official said, the United States would respond to Iranian aggression militarily.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters,” President Trump said. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“America is not seeking military conflict with Iran, but in an effort to deter credible Iranian threats, we have made clear that the U.S. has the capability and willingness to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region,” the official said.

In his comments on Thursday, Trump asked other countries to join him in his efforts to confront and condemn Iran.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters,” Trump said. “The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests, and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce.”

After announcing the drone shootdown, the president moved on with the flag ceremony.

“I thought you should know that,” Trump said.

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