WASHINGTON — The Pentagon moved a warship into the Persian Gulf today and, shortly after it was in place near the Strait of Hormuz, downed an Iranian drone closing in on it.
“At approximately 10 a.m. local time, the amphibious ship USS Boxer was in international waters conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz. A fixed wing unmanned aerial system (UAS) approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range. The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew,” Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Pentagon reporters in a statement on Thursday.
President Donald Trump later confirmed the incident, saying the unmanned drone drew within 1,000 yards of the USS Boxer “ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew.
“The drone was immediately destroyed,” Trump said, according to news reports. “This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters.”
The downing of the drone is the first overt action by the Pentagon since Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone on June 20. However , Washington and Iran have been cyber jousting since then, Pentagon officials said.
When the U.S drone was shot down, Trump considered — then decided against — retaliatory air strikes against Iran.
““The U.S. shoot-down of an Iranian drone is the latest escalation in the crisis between the U.S. and Iran—an outgrowth of more than a year of U.S. pressure on Iran in the wake of U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal,” Benjamin Friedman, policy director at Defense Priorities, told TMN. “Conditions are set for a miscalculation that could quickly spiral into a broader war.”
Friendman said to de-escalate and avoid war, the U.S. should explore the Iranian offer to relax sanctions in exchange for its commitment to verifiably comply with the additional protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Barring that, the U.S. should end secondary sanctions on our European allies and other buyers of Iranian oil and other goods. That step would likely cause Iran to again comply with the JCPOA’s limits on uranium enrichment,” he said.
The USS Boxer is an amphibious assault ship based in San Diego and carries about 2,000 Marines and dozens of helicopters. It left home port on May 2 as part of the reinforcements sent to the Middle East in response to concerns of rising Iranian adventurism against U.S. and allied forces, Pentagon officials said previously.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, is in the region this week assessing U.S. capabilities.
The drone intercept came just after Iran admitted earlier Thursday that it had seized an oil tanker on Sunday, claiming the vessel was transporting fuels from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers. The area of the capture is about six miles from where a United Arab Emirates-based, Panamanian-flagged tanker went missing earlier this week and photos of the captured ship released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard match the description of the missing ship, officials said in news reports.
Last week, Revolutionary Guard vessels approached a British oil tanker in the same area but were thwarted in their harassment by a U.K. Royal Navy frigate. The worship aimed its weapons at the Iranians and issued “verbal warnings” to them, according to U.K. government statements.