US considered covert mission to recover drone captured by Iran
December 7, 2011 8 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
What a difference two days can make! On Monday we speculated that Iran may have captured intact a United States Air Force RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone. At that time, most American officials questioned or flatly denied Iran’s capture claims. It now appears almost certain that Iran is indeed in possession of the aircraft; what is more, it seems increasingly likely that the captured drone was conducting a Central Intelligence Agency reconnaissance mission when it crashed in the desert along the country’s 1,000 km-long border with Afghanistan. The significance of the drone’s capture by Iranian authorities can be discerned from the fact that US officials are said to have considered last weekend several options for retrieving it from Iranian territory. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Defense, in association with the CIA, discussed at least three separate plans for recovering or destroying the aircraft wreckage. One of the options discussed involved sending an airborne team of US covert operatives into northeast Iran to locate the crashed drone, disassemble it, and carry its top-secret mechanical and electronic components back to a US base in Afghanistan. The US also considered deploying Special Forces stationed in Afghanistan, or tasking US intelligence assets inside Iran, with locating and blowing up the crashed drone. A third option involved destroying the downed aircraft with a remote airstrike from Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal quotes an unnamed “US official”, who says that the Pentagon and the CIA ultimately decided to reject all the options described above. The decision was apparently made after determining that a covert operation inside Iran would be too risky at this point in time, when tensions between the energy-rich country, Israel, and the United States, are already at a heightened state. The unnamed US official told the paper that a potential exposure of the covert action by Iran could entail an “explosive clash” between Washington and Tehran. This, in turn, would have the potential of becoming “a larger incident”, even prompting the Iranian government to accuse the White House of “an act of war”.