04:02 GMT04 March 2021
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    Tensions between the US and Iran escalated further on Thursday after an Iranian missile shot down a US spy drone Tehran said was operating in its airspace. US President Donald Trump warned that Iran had made a "very big mistake," but later decided at the last minute against 'retaliatory' strikes which might have killed well over a hundred Iranians.

    A pair of US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers, each capable of carrying up to tens of thousands of kilograms of munitions, including long-range cruise missiles and nuclear bombs, flew over the Persian Gulf on Friday morning following Iran's shooting down of a US reconnaissance drone a day earlier, radar data posted by flight monitoring resources has revealed.

    The bombers, flying out of the Al Udeid Air Base southwest of Doha, Qatar and going by the call signs GRIMM21 and GRIMM23, were reported active over the Gulf soon after President Trump told reporters that Iran and the world would soon "find out" how the US would respond.

    The strategic bombers were reportedly being escorted by four F-15C Eagle fighter jets.

    Earlier, President Donald Trump said he "stopped" a strike against three locations across Iran Thursday just ten minutes before it was set to be carried out after finding out that about 150 people would be killed in the attack. Trump said the estimated casualties were "not proportionate" to the drone downing. US media had reported that the Pentagon and State Department officials were expecting a strike order as late as 7 pm EST Thursday (3:30 am local time Friday in Iran) before an order came to cancel the operation. A senior Trump administration official said that US aircraft and ships had moved into position when the cancellation took place.

    Also on Friday, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' aerospace forces said air defence forces chose not to shoot down a Boeing P-8 Poseidon with 35 US airmen on board operating near the drone and also in violation of Iran's airspace, saying the drone's destruction was enough of a "warning."

    Iranian air defences reported shooting down a US Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drone over a coastal area in the southern province of Hormozgan early Thursday morning, with the Pentagon later confirming that it lost the drone. Iran and the US issued conflicting reports regarding the drone's location when it was hit, with the US side insisting that the UAV was flying over international waters, while Iran said it was shot down after entering Iranian airspace, and after it had been given two warnings to leave.


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