12/09/2011, 00.00
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Tehran shows footage of top-secret US drone downed near Afghan border

For many experts, the craft seen on tape is a fake. The footage shows Iranian military officials inspecting the drone downed by Iranian forces. The unmanned aerial vehicle appears unscathed. The CIA and the US military have so far not made any comments about the Iranian claim, pending investigations.
Tehran (AsiaNews/ Agencies) – “The US cannot do a damn thing,” read a banner displayed at the foot of the alleged RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which Tehran says its forces captured near the Afghan border. Last night, state TV broadcast more than two minutes of footage showing Iranian military officials inspecting the aircraft. The chief of the aerospace division of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, General Ami Ali Hajizadeh, said Iranian forces brought the aircraft down with an electronic ambush, deactivating the drone’s self-destruction system.

However, not everyone is convinced by the drone seen in the video. John Pike, an expert on military and intelligence technology for GlobalSecurity.org, 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.

A US defence official, however, said the aerial vehicle appears to be an actual RQ-170. Some of the details, including the seams on the drone’s fuselage, its access ports and its unusual air intake, appear to confirm that it’s genuine.

Despite Tehran’s claims, Washington has not yet confirmed whether the plane is authentic. Some media are saying that the possible capture of such a plane is raising concern in the US military and the CIA, not so much for what the Iranians might do, but for the possibility that it might be turned over to Russian or Chinese scientists. Unlike Tehran, Beijing and Moscow have the means to gain insight into its flight controls, communications gear, video equipment and any self-destruct or return-to-base mechanisms.

Iran has been complaining since 2005 about US surveillance drones flying over its airspace to spy on its military and nuclear facilities. The US and its allies suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Over the years, Tehran said it has shot down a number of unmanned planes, which it claims to have used to build its own unmanned bomber, called ‘ambassador of death’. In addition, with Russian help, Tehran also said that it had built an unmanned aircraft with a range of more than 1,000 kilometres, far enough to reach Israel.

In the meantime, the tug-of-war between Islamic Republic and the international community has increased after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report in early November, suggesting that Iran’s nuclear programme is military in nature.

Israel has used the report in a diplomatic offensive to impose stricter sanctions on Iran. The United States and the United Kingdom have already responded with new sanctions, in particular in the energy and financial fields. Similarly, on 1 December, the European Union approved new sanctions against some 180 Iranian individuals and companies over Tehran’s support of terrorism and its continued nuclear weapons programme.

For some experts, the US troop pullout from Iraq will allow Iran to control a region stretching from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. This is not only highly chilling prospect for Israel but also for Saudi Arabia and Turkey. It has also raised questions in the United States, which is more worried by Iran’s conventional forces than its nuclear ambitions.

Instead of bombing the sites, European nations, Turkey and the Arab League are trying to contain Iranian influence by going after Syria’s Ba‘athist regime and Lebanon’s Hizbollah as well as trying to limit Iranian ties with Iraqi Shias.
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