U.S. shoots down “high-altitude object” over Alaska at the direction of President Biden, White House says
The Pentagon, at the direction of President Biden, shot down a “high altitude object” over Alaska airspace on Friday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby confirmed during Friday’s White House briefing. The incident comes several days after the Pentagon took down a Chinese spy balloon that crossed much of the continental U.S.
Kirby, asked about the possibility of another object floating over U.S. airspace, said he “can confirm that the Department of Defense was tracking a high-altitude object over Alaska in the last 24 hours.” The Pentagon is still assessing this latest object, and it’s not clear who owns it or what its purpose was. The presence of surveillance equipment could not yet be confirmed, U.S. officials said.
Kirby said this latest object was the size of a “small car,” and over a “very sparsely populated” area, allowing for it to be taken down more easily than the Chinese spy balloon that was larger than the Statute of Liberty. Kirby said the president’s main concern was the threat this latest object posed to civilian flights. This latest object was taken down off the Alaskan coast.
“The object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” Kirby said. “Out of an abundance of caution and at the recommendation of the Pentagon, President Biden ordered the military to down the object and they did, and it came inside our territorial waters. Those waters right now are frozen but inside territorial airspace and over territorial waters. Fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command took down the object within the last hour.”
Asked about the operation, Mr. Biden told reporters Friday, “It was a success.”
The FAA closed some airspace in northern Alaska to support the Defense Department’s operation.
Kirby said the U.S. will attempt to recover the object, which did not appear to be manned or have maneuvering capabilities.
At a Pentagon briefing, Department of Defense spokesman Gen. Patrick Ryder said the object was detected on radar Thursday, Feb. 9, and was “further investigated and identified” by fighter aircraft.
“U.S. Northern Command is beginning recovery operations now,” Ryder said. A U.S. official said Northern Command has assets heading to the area now to recover the debris, including HC130, HH60 and CH47 aircraft.
Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska said he was briefed on the object by the Pentagon Friday morning.
“Alaska is the frontline of defense for our nation. The past few weeks have made this even more evident,” he said in a series of tweets.
The Chinese spy balloon that transited across the U.S. before it was shot down off South Carolina on Saturday is part of a “larger Chinese surveillance balloon program” that has operated for several years and over multiple continents, the Pentagon says.
The Biden administration has faced intense criticism over the decision to allow the Chinese surveillance balloon to cross the U.S. for nearly a week before it was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean. Administration officials said that decision was made due to the risk to civilians on the ground. But some Republican lawmakers wanted it to be taken down when it was over water on Alaska’s coast, like this smaller object was. Lawmakers have been briefed on the large surveillance balloon that was shot down.
Previous balloons known to the U.S. have flown over parts of Hawaii, Texas and Florida — three during the Trump administration and one at the beginning of the Biden administration.
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