The Cable

Pentagon Says It Lost Contact With Drone Over Syria

The Syrian government claims to have shot down the unmanned vehicle, a charge Washington denies.

TO GO WITH: Pakistan-unrest-Afghanistan,
TO GO WITH: Pakistan-unrest-Afghanistan,FOCUS by Emmanuel Duparcq and S.H. Khan (FILES) In this file picture taken on on June 13, 2010, a US Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport. Times are hard for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the network has been weakened significantly by US drone strikes on their hideouts, the killing of founder Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and by finances drying up. AFP PHOTO/FILES/POOL/Massoud HOSSAINI (Photo credit should read MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Defense Department said Tuesday evening that the U.S. military had lost contact with one of its surveillance drones flying over Syria earlier in the day, raising questions about whether the unmanned aircraft crashed on its own or was shot down by the Syrian government.

In a statement, a U.S. defense official said American drone operators had “lost contact with an U.S. MQ-1 Predator unarmed remotely piloted aircraft operating over northwest Syria.”

The comments came just hours after Syria’s state news agency said Syrian air defense forces shot down the reconnaissance aircraft over the coastal city of Latakia, a stronghold of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the Syrian account is correct, the incident would be the first known time a U.S. aircraft was brought down in Syria since surveillance flights began in August.

Washington, though, has expressed wariness about Assad’s claims.

“At this time, we have no information to corroborate press reports that the aircraft was shot down,” the U.S. defense official said. “We are looking into the incident and will provide more details when available.”

The incident also highlights the murkiness of the current U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State. Assad has in the past expressed a willingness to have his forces battle the militants in a de facto coalition with Washington and its allies, but the strongman has also warned that he would act against unilateral American incursions into his airspace. The fallen Predator could indicate that Assad kept his word.

ASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

Kate Brannen is deputy managing editor at Just Security and a contributor to Foreign Policy, where she previously worked as a senior reporter. @K8brannen

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