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'You'll soon find out' if US retaliates after Iran shoots down drone, Trump warns

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The United States and Iran have been lobbing threats, fighting proxy wars, and imposing sanctions for decades. USA Today looks at over 60 years of this back-and-forth.
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U.S.-Iranian tensions heightened Thursday when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. surveillance drone, a bold strike that drew a stern warning from President Donald Trump and prompted top Pentagon officials to formulate military response options.

Iran said the drone was destroyed over its coast and said the incident sent a “clear message” that the Persian Gulf nation was ready to defend itself from what it views as Western aggression. The Pentagon, however, said the incident played out in international waters over the Strait of Hormuz.

Trump told reporters he found it “hard to believe” that the drone was shot down intentionally, saying more likely a lower-level officer was responsible without approval of superiors.

“Iran made a very big mistake,” President Trump said, adding that “you’ll soon find out” if the U.S. will retaliate.

The two countries have escalated their rhetoric since two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman last week. The United States blames Iran for the attacks; Tehran denies responsibility. 

U.S. Central Command said the Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance ISR aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system.

“Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,” said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command. He called the strike an “unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset.” 

Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command in Qatar, said the drone was attacked about 20 miles from Iran. “This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” he said.

War with Iran?: Escalating Iran crisis looks a lot like the path US took to Iraq war

Senior Pentagon officials consider the incident a serious provocation and are considering military options to respond to it, according to a Defense official with knowledge of the discussions but who is not authorized to speak publicly about them. One response could be to strike the missile battery that launched the attack.

Revolutionary Guard Commander Major General Hossein Salami said Iran does not want war, but that the incident should serve as a warning to the U.S. to stay away.

“The downing of the U.S. drone had an explicit, decisive and clear message that defenders of the Islamic Iran’s borders will show decisive and knockout reactions to aggression against this territory,” Salami said at a news conference in Kurdistan Province. “Borders are our red line, and any enemy violating these borders will not go back.” 

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  • epa07659492 A handout photo made available by the US Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DIVIDS) showing the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system completing its inaugural cross-country ferry flight at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, USA, 18 Septembery 2014. Media reports on 20 June 2019 state that Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) claim to have shot down a US spy drone over Iranian airspace, near Kuhmobarak in Iran's southern Hormozgan province. The US military has not confirmed if a drone was hit.  EPA-EFE/Erik Hildebrandt / DIVIDS / HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES ORG XMIT: USNORTHCOM1 of 10
  • epa07659383 A handout photo made available by the US Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DIVIDS) showing a team of 12th Aircraft Maintenance Unit Airmen walking beside an RQ-4 Global Hawk while its being towed during Red Flag Alaska 18-3, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, USA 16 August 2018. Media reports on 20 June 2019 state that Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) claim to have shot down a US spy drone over Iranian airspace, near Kuhmobarak in Iran's southern Hormozgan province. The US military has not confirmed if a drone was hit.  EPA-EFE/Airman 1st Class Tristan Viglian / DIVIDS /HANDOUT 9RW/PADSN: 368-8887 HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES ORG XMIT: USNORTHCOM2 of 10
  • epa07659405 A handout photo made available by the US Navy provided by Northrop Grumman, a RQ-4 Global Hawk  unmanned aerial vehicle conducts tests over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, USA 25 June 2010. Media reports on 20 June 2019 state that Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) claim to have shot down a US spy drone over Iranian airspace, near Kuhmobarak in Iran's southern Hormozgan province. The US military has not confirmed if a drone was hit.  EPA-EFE/Erik Hildebrandt / US NAVY/  HAN  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES3 of 10
  • epa07659379 A handout photo made available by the US Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DIVIDS) showing an RQ-4 Global Hawk, assigned to the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron, sits on the flightline during during Red Flag Alaska 18-3, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, USA 16 August 2018. Media reports on 20 June 2019 state that Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) claim to have shot down a US spy drone over Iranian airspace, near Kuhmobarak in Iran's southern Hormozgan province. The US military has not confirmed if a drone was hit.  EPA-EFE/Airman 1st Class Tristan Viglian / DIVIDS /HANDOUT 9RW/PADSN: 368-8887 HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES ORG XMIT: USNORTHCOM4 of 10
  • In this image released by the US Air Force, a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance drone lands on August 16, 2018, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. - The Pentagon confirmed on June 20, 2019, that Iranian forces shot down a US naval surveillance drone but insisted the aircraft was in international air space, not that of Iran. The RQ-4A Global Hawk drone was downed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, a US Central Command spokesman, Navy Captain Bill Urban, said in a statement. He said it happened at 23h35GMT, June 19. (Photo by Tristan D. Viglianco / US AIR FORCE / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT AFP PHOTO / US Air Force / Airman 1st Class Tristan D. Viglianco - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTSTRISTAN D. VIGLIANCO/AFP/Getty Images ORIG FILE ID: AFP_1HO5ZT5 of 10
  • In this image released by the US Air Force, Staff Sgt. Seth Thurber checks panels of a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance drone during a preflight inspection on February 5, 2019, at Beale Air Force Base, California. - The Pentagon confirmed on June 20, 2019, that Iranian forces shot down a US naval surveillance drone but insisted the aircraft was in international air space, not that of Iran. The RQ-4A Global Hawk drone was downed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, a US Central Command spokesman, Navy Captain Bill Urban, said in a statement. He said it happened at 23h35GMT, June 19. (Photo by Tristan D. Viglianco / US AIR FORCE / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT AFP PHOTO / US Air Force / Airman 1st Class Tristan D. Viglianco - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTSTRISTAN D. VIGLIANCO/AFP/Getty Images ORIG FILE ID: AFP_1HO5ZU6 of 10
  • In this Feb. 13, 2018, photo released by the U.S. Air Force, an RQ-4 Global Hawk is seen on the tarmac of Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Iran's Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk on Thursday, June 20, 2019, amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, American and Iranian officials said, though they disputed the circumstances of the incident. (Airman 1st Class D. Blake Browning/U.S. Air Force via AP) ORG XMIT: ARE1017 of 10
  • The RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned plane is displayed at the Farnborough Airshow, 17th July 2006.  Held every two years, the show allows aviation companies from the commercial and military market the chance to demonstrate there latest technologies to the world. AFP PHOTO/LEON NEAL  (Photo credit should read Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: LN178 of 10
  • In this image released by the US Air Force, RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance sits in a hangar on February 17, 2019, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. - The Pentagon confirmed on June 20, 2019, that Iranian forces shot down a US naval surveillance drone but insisted the aircraft was in international air space, not that of Iran. The RQ-4A Global Hawk drone was downed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, a US Central Command spokesman, Navy Captain Bill Urban, said in a statement. He said it happened at 23h35GMT, June 19. (Photo by Darnell T. CANNADY / US AIR FORCE / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT AFP PHOTO / US Air Force /  Tech. Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTSDARNELL T. CANNADY/AFP/Getty Images ORIG FILE ID: AFP_1HO5ZW9 of 10
  • In this Oct. 24, 2018, photo released by the U.S. Air Force, members of the 7th Reconnaissance Squadron prepare to launch an RQ-4 Global Hawk at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy. Iran's Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk on Thursday, June 20, 2019, amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, American and Iranian officials said, though they disputed the circumstances of the incident. (Staff Sgt. Ramon A. Adelan/U.S. Air Force via AP) ORG XMIT: ARE10210 of 10

The RQ-4 Global Hawk, built by defense giant Northrop Grumman, is a high-altitude drone capable of flying for more than 30 hours at a time. It is not the drone you see your neighbor flying over your street – this one is more than 47 feet long and has a wingspan of more than 131 feet. The military has flown them since 2001.

Robert Pape, director of the Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago, said the drone was probably probing and testing Iranian air defenses. The incident likely provided the U.S. military with information that could be used if Trump decides to attempt airstrikes at Iranian nuclear installations or other targets, he told USA TODAY.

“You probably don’t expect it (the drone) to be shot down, but you are expecting that it would light up the air defenses,” he said. “And I’m sure the incident provided valuable tactical information.”

The Iranian Guard said the drone was shot down by its air force and its Third of Khordad air defense system. The guard said the drone fell in the Kouh-e Mobarak region in the Central district of Jask, about 750 miles southeast of Tehran, after the aircraft violated Iran’s airspace.

The U.S. military previously accused Iran of firing a missile at another drone last week that was responding to the attack on the oil tankers. In recent weeks the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to join tens of thousands already in the region.

Relations between the U.S. and Iran have been steadily deteriorating since Trump pulled the U.S. out of a global nuclear deal with Tehran a year ago. The administration brought back sanctions on banking, oil and petrochemicals.

Other nations sought to keep the nuclear deal in place, and Iran was slow to formally bow out. However, this week Iran’s nuclear agency warned the country was 10 days away from breaking the uranium stockpile limit set under the agreement.

Sina Toossi, research associate at the National Iranian American Council, a Washington-based nonprofit supporting human rights and democracy for Iran, said Iran must be condemned by the international community if it is proved that the drone was shot down over international waters. But Toossi also accused John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, of provoking Iran-U.S. tensions.

“There are no military solutions to the U.S. disputes with Iran, only diplomatic ones,” Toossi said. “However, rather than pursue sincere diplomacy, President Trump has elected to pile on pressure with no strategic foresight at the behest of uber-hawkish advisers like John Bolton.”

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook, David Jackson and Donovan Slack

The U.S. and Iran: Iran says Trump playing ‘very dangerous game’ 

Trump on Iran: President says war would lead to ‘end’ of Iran

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  • Kimia Naderzadeh, right, and her cousin, Maryam Dehnavi, sit in the shade on a pedestrian street in Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018.1 of 37
  • Smog over Tehran, Iran's skyline on July 14, 2018.2 of 37
  • An unidentified man sits on a motorbike outside a market in north Tehran, Iran, on July 15, 2018.3 of 37
  • A stall at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, on July 14, 2018.4 of 37
  • A woman takes a photograph of a friend as they wait on the stairs outside the entrance to the Cinema Museum of Iran, in Tehran on July 15, 2018.5 of 37
  • The view of the Ferdows Garden from the Cinema Museum of Iran, in Tehran, on July 15, 2018.6 of 37
  • A mural depicting the Statue of Liberty as Death is seen outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, on July 11, 2018.7 of 37
  • Two unidentified men pose for a photograph in north Tehran, Iran, on July 15, 2018.8 of 37
  • A shopkeeper in the Grand Bazaar, an old historical marketplace in Tehran, Iran, on July 14, 2018.9 of 37
  • Carpet sellers in Tehran, Iran's Grand Bazaar on July 14, 2018. The man on the left recently had a nose job, a very popular surgery in Iran.10 of 37
  • A stall selling nuts and dried fruits in Tehran, Iran, on July 14, 2018.11 of 37
  • A shop selling olives, dates and nuts near the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, on July 14, 2018.12 of 37
  • A view from above of a fruit and vegetable market in wealthy north Tehran, Iran, on July 15.13 of 37
  • Patrons of a cafe in Tehran, Iran, watch a television screen (not shown), on July 15, 2018.14 of 37
  • A carpet seller in the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, leans on his goods on July 14, 2018.15 of 37
  • An unidentified child stands near a mural of the Statue of Liberty inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, on July 11, 2018.16 of 37
  • A man walks by anti-American murals inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, on July 11, 2018.17 of 37
  • A hallway inside former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, on July 11, 2018. The sign on wall reads: There is no time for impartiality in Iran any more, reference to the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution.18 of 37
  • A woman inside former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, on July 11, 2018, views communications equipment abandoned by American diplomats in 1979 amid the nation's Islamic Revolution and a U.S. hostage crisis.19 of 37
  • A display inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, purports to show American diplomats at work. Photo: July 11, 2018.20 of 37
  • Inside the Carpet Museum of Iran, in central Tehran, on July 14, 2018.21 of 37
  • A view of a Down with the U.S.A. mural in central Tehran, Iran, on July 15, 2018.22 of 37
  • Residential buildings in Qom, an Iranian desert city popular with clerics and religious scholars, on July 12, 2018.23 of 37
  • Motorcycles and pedestrians in a central square in Qom, Iran, on July 12, 2018.24 of 37
  • An underground shopping mall in Qom, Iran, sells chador, an outer garment or open cloak worn by some women in Iran. Photo: July 12, 2018.25 of 37
  • A view of children playing in Qom, Iran, on July 12, 2018.26 of 37
  • People walk in front of a mosque in Qom, Iran, near the Shrine of Fatima Masumeh, a Muslim saint. Photo: July 12, 2018.27 of 37
  • The terrace of Ali Qapu, also known as The Great Persian Palace, in Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018.28 of 37
  • A view of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, in Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018.29 of 37
  • A woman in a chador walks in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, also known as Meidan Emam, in the center of Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018.30 of 37
  • Iranian hipsters in Isfahan, on July 13, 2018.31 of 37
  • Under Isfahan's Allahverdi Khan Bridge, also known as Siosepol. The name translates as Bridge of 33 Arches. Photo: July 13, 2018.32 of 37
  • Pedal boats sit on the banks of the dried-out Zayanderud River, in Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018.33 of 37
  • The interior of the Vank Cathedral's vaulted dome in Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018. The cathedral, also known as the Holy Savior Cathedral, is an Armenian Apostolic Church. Christianity has long been practiced in Iran. The government has tried to crack down on it.34 of 37
  • Tourists admire the interior of the Vank Cathedral in Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018. The cathedral, also known as the Holy Savior Cathedral, is an Armenian Apostolic Church.35 of 37
  • A painting inside an Armenian Apostolic Church depicts the ascent to heaven for some and the descent to hell for others. Photo: Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018.36 of 37
  • Zahra Salehian, left, and Fatemeh Sahari, in Isfahan, Iran, on July 13, 2018. Both young women, who are 18, are strongly in favor of the chador, hijab and other modesty preserving clothing items for women in Iran.37 of 37

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