A US reconnaisance plane was flying not far from the drone which was shot down in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian missile and could have been destroyed as well, but Iran's air defence troops refrained from doing so, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force commander Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh said.
"At the moment when the US spy drone was shot down, another American reconnaissance aircraft was near it, which we did not shoot down," Hajizadeh said, speaking to reporters on Friday, according to Fars.
The commander said the plane accompanying the drone was a Boeing P-8 Poseidon with 35 airmen on board. "This aircraft also violated our air borders. We could have shot it down, but did not do so, because, having shot down the drone, we'd sent a warning to the American terrorist forces," he said, as quoted by Tasnim.
#Iran’s purpose by shooting down the drone was to warn the "#US terrorist forces" as it could also target an #American P-8 military aircraft that was flying next to MQ-4C drone, but it didn’t: Brigadier General Hajizadeh pic.twitter.com/V6xT8YwB31— Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) 21 июня 2019 г.
The US has yet to comment on the IRGC commander's claims.
Hajizadeh also told reporters that Iran had issued the US military two warnings before shooting down the drone. "Unfortunately, when they failed to reply...and the aircraft made no change to its trajectory...we were obliged to shoot it down," the commander said, as cited by AFP.
The IRGC aerospace chief appeared at a media event on Friday, inspecting what appeared to be the remnants of the downed Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drone, an advanced $130 million surveillance system that's packed with advanced sensors and larger than some small planes.
On Friday, The New York Times reported, citing a senior Trump administration official, that the president initially approved attacks against a series of Iranian targets in response to the drone being down, but backed down just as aircraft and ships set to be involved in the strikes were moved into position to fire.
The two countries have issued contradictory claims about where the drone was when it was hit, with Iran saying it has "indisputable" evidence that the aircraft violated Iranian airspace, and the Pentagon releasing an alleged map of the drone's flight path showing it skimming the Iranian maritime border in the Strait of Hormuz.
The drone incident is just the latest ramping up of tensions between Tehran and Washington. Last month, the US substantially ramped up its presence in the Middle East, deploying a carrier group, fighters, bombers, air defence systems, and thousands of additional troops to the region amid claims of an 'imminent' Iranian threat against US interests. On Thursday, Iran's defence chief accused the US of ramping up tensions in a bid to force Tehran into talks on US terms.