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Iran Says US Withdrew Drones From Area Closed Off for Drills After Warning

© Photo : Mohammadreza Abbasi, Mehr News AgencyPhoto from the first day of Iran's Zolfaqar-99 drills, September 10, 2020.
Photo from the first day of Iran's Zolfaqar-99 drills, September 10, 2020. - Sputnik International
The Islamic Republic’s armed forces kicked off three days’ worth of military drills in the Strait of Hormuz, the Sea of Oman, the Makran coast and the northern Indian Ocean on Thursday, with the exercises, dubbed ‘Zolfaqar-99’ stretching across some 2 million square km of sea and land area.

The United States military has heeded a warning from their Iranian counterparts to withdraw reconnaissance drones from the airspace over an area being used in Iran’s massive military drills, Rear Admiral Shahram Irani, a spokesman for the exercises, has said.

“Following the announcement of the start of the Zolfaqar-99 military drills, the Air Defence Force warned all foreign drones flying near the exercises site to leave the general area of the drills,” Irani said, speaking to Iranian television.

According to the officer, Iranian forces detected a concentration of US drones trying to gather information in the exercise areas. “These activities were detected by the army’s signal detection systems, and the drones were warned by the air defences,” he said.

“Since then, we have been witnessing a noticeable change in the activities of American drones,” Irani added. “They were forced to leave the area after seeing the level of readiness of the surveillance, identification and defence systems of the Iranian military,” the senior naval officer said.

The Pentagon has not commented on the veracity of Irani’s remarks, and has yet to issue statements of any kind on the Zolfaqar-99 drills.

Thursday’s drills saw the deployment of the Sahand destroyer and the Bandar Abbas support ship in the Indian Ocean. Photos and videos of the first day of the exercises show coastal defence batteries, rocket artillery, and troops armed with shoulder-fired weapons firing at targets in the water. Others show commandos in small boats and armoured unit transports practicing amphibious assault operations, paratroopers making landings, and Air Force jets dropping bombs on targets on a beachhead.

The three day maneuvers include forces from all branches of Iran’s military, and in addition to combat and target practice, will include intelligence, signals and communications drills, simulated rescue missions, and other actions. The drills are also expected to see the first-ever operational deployment of a new Iranian-made submarine and the Simorgh strike drone.

The drills’ commander, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said Wednesday that the exercises are aimed at “improving the combat readiness and capability of naval, air, [air] defence and ground forces,” and to confirm their capability “in the face of any possible aggression.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Sayyari added that “regional countries know that national and regional security is our red line,” and warned that “no one should test our capabilities to handle any perceived threat.”

“Our troops are prepared to conduct rapid and sustained combat operations anywhere in the region. Regional countries have what it takes to take care of their own security. There is no need for outside powers as they only destabilize and sow discord. Today’s drills demonstrate just a fraction of what our armed forces are capable of doing in a real battle,” the commander stressed.

The Zolfaqar-99 drills come amid ongoing tensions between Iran and its US, Israeli and Saudi adversaries. Tehran increased the frequency and scale of its drills in the last two years, following Washington’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and its attempt to suffocate the Islamic Republic economically via crushing energy and banking sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the Raisina Dialogue 2020 in New Delhi, India, 15 January 2020. - Sputnik International
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In 2019, the US sent a carrier strike group to the Middle East, and went on to accuse Tehran of sabotaging multiple tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran denied the claims. In June 2019, Iran’s new Khordad-3 air defence system shot down a $220 million US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, with President Trump briefly considering air strikes against the country before backing down, saying the response would not be “proportionate.”

In January 2020, the US assassinated Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, with Iran responding by launching missiles at two US bases in Iraq after giving their Iraqis advance warning. The strikes gave over 100 US military personnel traumatic brain injuries.

Tensions were ramped up again in April after the US Navy accused small Iranian gunboats buzzing past its ships in the Persian Gulf of “harassment.” Tehran responded by urging the US to stay out of its home waters.

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