The U.S. military has lost control of a drone over northwest Syria, U.S. officials said Tuesday, as the government of President Bashar al-Assad claimed to have shot down a U.S. surveillance plane for the first time since U.S. airstrikes began there last year.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported that Syrian air defenses brought down a “hostile U.S. surveillance plane” in northern Latakia, on Syria’s northern Mediterranean coast.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the Pentagon is looking into the incident.
“We can confirm that at approximately 1:40 p.m. EDT today, U.S. military controllers lost contact with an U.S. MQ-1 Predator unarmed remotely piloted aircraft operating over northwest Syria,” the official said.
Two other officials said it was not yet clear whether the aircraft had been shot down or had crashed.
Since September, U.S. and allied aircraft have been conducting airstrikes over Syria against the Islamic State, the militant group that has drawn strength from the country’s civil war, now in its fifth year.
Mostly, the strikes have taken place in areas under Islamic State control that are far from Assad’s power base. Although the Obama administration has said Assad cannot remain in power, the United States has shied away from using military force against his regime.
Assad, meanwhile, has tolerated the foreign airstrikes, which have targeted a common enemy.