Iran Broadcasts Footage of Downed US Drone

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian state TV broadcast video Thursday of what it said was the stealth U.S. drone that Tehran says its forces downed downed earlier this week.

The more than two minutes of footage showed Iranian military officials inspecting what state TV identified as the RQ-170 Sentinel drone. The cream-colored aircraft appeared intact and undamaged.

The chief of the aerospace division of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Ami Ali Hajizadeh, said Iranian forces brought the aircraft down with an electronic ambush, causing minimum damage to the drone.

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"It was downed through a joint operation by the Guards and Iran's regular army," he told state television.

Iranian state radio has said the unmanned aircraft was detected over the eastern town of Kashmar, some 140 miles (225 kilometers) from the border with Afghanistan.

Tehran appeared to be using the footage of the purported drone to score propaganda points, and a banner at the foot of the aircraft in the video read "The U.S. cannot do a damn thing" — a quotation by the Iran's late supreme leader, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini.

Some Western experts questioned whether the aircraft in the video was indeed an RQ-170.

John Pike, an expert on military and intelligence technology for GlobalSecurity.org, said in an email that the drone shown on Iranian TV looked like "a parade float model of a Sentinel" rather than the high-tech robotic surveillance aircraft itself.

He said that the shape of the aircraft differed from that shown in most other photographs of the Sentinel, and that it was in better shape than would be expected after a crash. "I'm guessing this is a mock-up they have prepared for a parade," he said.

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Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador on Thursday to protest the drone's "invasion" of Iranian airspace, according to state TV. It said the ministry demanded an explanation and compensation from Washington.

The U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, and Switzerland represents American interests in Iran.

U.S. officials have acknowledged the drone's loss. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject matter, said they are not sure what the Iranians will be able to glean technologically from what they found. It is unlikely that Iran would be able to recover any surveillance data from the aircraft.

Iran confirmed for the first time in 2005 that the U.S. has been flying surveillance drones over its airspace to spy on its military and nuclear facilities. The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified information, have said the drone and other stealth craft like it have spied on Iran for years from a U.S. air base in Afghanistan, and other bases in the region.

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In January, Tehran said two pilotless spy planes shot down over its airspace were operated by the U.S., and in July, media said Iranian military officials showed Russian experts several U.S. drones reportedly shot down in recent years.

Faced with international sanctions over its disputed nuclear program, Iran has been trying to build up its own military technology.

It unveiled its first domestically built unmanned bomber in 2010, calling the aircraft an "ambassador of death" to Iran's enemies. Two year earlier, Tehran announced it had built an unmanned aircraft with a range of more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers), far enough to reach Israel.

Both Israel and the United States have not ruled out a military option against Iran's nuclear facilities, which the West suspects aim to make atomic weapons - a charge Iran denies.

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