WASHINGTON — An Iranian fighter jet approached a U.S. surveillance drone over the Persian Gulf but broke off its pursuit after the pilot of a U.S. escort plane radioed a verbal warning, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said the incident occurred Tuesday and that the unarmed MQ-1 Predator surveillance drone as well as two U.S. military escort planes remained over international waters at all times.
Little said the drone was conducting a “routine classified” surveillance mission.
He said the Iranian F-4 plane came as close as 16 miles to the drone before it departed.
Little initially said that a U.S. escort plane discharged a flare to warn the Iranian pilot, but he later retracted that statement, saying instead that the Iranian plane broke off its pursuit after receiving a U.S. “verbal warning.”
Lt. Col. Wesley Miller, a Pentagon spokesman, said he could not explain where the Pentagon got the incorrect information about a flare. Miller also said he could not say how close the U.S. planes came to Iranian territorial waters.
In November an Iranian fighter fired upon, but did not hit, an unarmed Predator over the Gulf. In the aftermath of that incident, the U.S. told the Iranians that it would continue to conduct surveillance flights “consistent with long-standing practice and our commitment to the security of the region,” Little said.
“We also communicated that we reserve the right to protect our military assets as well as our forces and will continue to do so going forward,” he added.