WASHINGTON: Revelations about a US reconnaissance drone which crashed in Iran last week suggest Washington is stepping up surveillance and pressure on the Islamic republic over its nuclear program, media reports say.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the unmanned stealth drone was part of a surveillance program that has frequently sent the hard-to-detect aircraft into Iran to map suspected nuclear sites.
Citing foreign officials and American experts who have been briefed on the effort, the Times said the drone was part of the most secret of many intelligence-collection efforts against Iran, but that the crash effectively blew the program's cover.
The Washington Post said the drone program indicates that US officials believe covert action and economic pressure may be the only means of pressing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Citing current and former US officials, the Post said the administration's strategy includes expanded use of remote-controlled stealth aircraft, such as the one that came down in eastern Iran last week.
The report said the effort also includes stepped up sales of bunker-busting munitions, fighter jets and other military hardware to Gulf states as well as Israel to counter a potential threat from Iran.
The officials told the Post the new strategy suggests Washington is losing patience with efforts to negotiate a deal with Tehran to halt its nuclear program suspected of being used to create weapons.
The RQ-170 Sentinel high-altitude stealth drone was on a surveillance mission when it crashed in eastern Iran.
According to the Post, the CIA is thought to have a dozen or so of the batwing-shaped, radar-evading aircraft which can capture a range of intelligence material, including high-resolution images, radiation measurements and air samples.
US officials said that aircraft had been en route to Afghanistan at the time of the crash.
Iran's military claimed it shot down the drone inside its territory near the Afghan and Pakistani borders, and threatened to retaliate for the violation of its airspace. The Pentagon said there was no indication that the drone was shot down.
An identical stealth aircraft to the one lost in Iran reportedly was used by US Navy SEALs in the operation last May that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.