US President Donald Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for the downing of an unmanned surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching attacks, US media reports said on Friday.

Citing senior White House officials, The New York Times reported an operation sanctioned by Trump to launch attacks on a “handful of Iranian targets” – including radar and missile batteries – was “in its early stages” on Thursday evening when the US leader changed tack and called it off.

Planes were in the air and ships were in position when the order to stand down came, the Times cited one unidentified administration official as saying.

The Washington Post and ABC News also reported the developments, citing unnamed White House officials and other sources said to be familiar with the matter.

The White House declined to comment on the reports.

Drone shot down

The reports emerged just hours after Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it shot down an unmanned US aircraft after it flew into Iranian airspace.

The IRGC said the unit was downed by a surface-to-air missile, marking the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on US assets amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran unleashed by Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from an international accord that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Since then, the US has deployed more military assets to the Gulf, as well as thousands of more troops.

Speaking later on Thursday, US officials said the drone was in international territory at the time it was brought down. Trump separately told reporters “Iran made a big mistake” and his “country will not stand for it”, before later suggesting the move may have been unintentional. When asked if he would respond militarily, Trump said, “You’ll soon find out.”

On Friday, Iran’s foreign ministry said Tehran had “indisputable” evidence that the aircraft violated its airspace.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told Swiss Ambassador Markus Leitner, whose country represents US interests in Iran, of the evidence on Thursday night, the ministry said in a statement.

“Even some parts of the drone’s wreckage has been retrieved from Iran’s territorial waters,” Araghchi told Leitner.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave the exact coordinates where he said the drone was shot down, adding Iran has retrieved sections of the unmanned aerial vehicle from its territorial waters.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

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