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U.S. drone 'downed' by Iran may have been lost over Afghanistan

December 4, 2011 | 12:09 pm

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This report has been updated. See note below for details.

REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND BEIRUT — A drone that Iranian officials claimed to have taken down may be an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that went missing over western Afghanistan late last week, according to U.S.-led forces in that country.

"The operators of the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status," NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said in a statement.

Iranian media reported Sunday that the country's armed forces had downed a U.S. drone that they said violated Iranian airspace along the eastern border. Iran borders Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east.

An Iranian military official quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency said the aircraft suffered minor damage and was in the possession of the armed forces. He identified the aircraft as an "RQ170" type drone and said Iranian forces were "fully ready to counter any aggression."

[Updated, 3.30 p.m., Dec. 4, 2011: Some initial reports out of Iran suggested the drone had been shot down. But the semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, quoted a military official as saying that Iran’s electronic warfare unit had managed to take control of  the aircraft and bring it “under their possession.”]

The claim came as Iran's already strained relations with the United States and its allies worsened over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

On Thursday, the European Union imposed new sanctions on Iranian individuals, companies and organizations in response to a report alleging that Tehran had pressed ahead with ambitions to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes.

Britain shut down its embassy in Iran on Wednesday and gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave London after protesters angry about sanctions ransacked two diplomatic compounds in Tehran. Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands have temporarily recalled their ambassadors from Tehran in solidarity with Britain.

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— Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Zavis in Beirut

Photo: Veiled Iranian female students at a demonstration Saturday in Tehran to welcome Iranian diplomats expelled from London. The posters show Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, with late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Credit: Vahid Salemi / Associated Press

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