US shoots down Chinese ‘spy’ balloon over Atlantic coast

A US warplane shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had been flying over the country for days over US territorial waters on Saturday in what Washington calls an “unacceptable” violation of sovereignty.

“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President (Joe) Biden and his national security team will always put the security of the American people first and respond effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” declared Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Praising the US Air Force, President Joe Biden said, “We successfully shot it down, and I want to congratulate our Airmen who did it.” The Chinese spy balloon was brought down by a single missile that was launched by an F-22 fighter jet.

A senior US military official spoke about the details of the downing of the Chinese balloon, saying that an F-22 fighter jet fired at 2:39 p.m. (1939 GMT), using a single AIM-9X supersonic heat-seeking air-to-air missile, shooting down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina.

Fox News, Reuters and CNN say, citing eyewitnesses or official sources, that the operation was carried out on the east coast of the United States, in South Carolina, shortly after the temporary closure of three airports was reported, in what the Federal Aviation Administration called a “national security effort.” Coastal authorities also called for clearing marine areas.

The Pentagon clarified in a statement that the action took place over US territorial waters and that it was carried out in response to the “unacceptable violation” by China.

“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety of Americans first, while responding effectively to the unacceptable violation of our sovereignty by the People’s Republic of China,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“Civilian airship”

The armed action took place over the Atlantic Ocean and the military is now participating in a rescue operation for the remains of the balloon, described as “surveillance” by Defense.

The US authorities assured that the device travelled through different sensitive areas of the country and sparked a new diplomatic clash between Washington and Beijing, to the point that the trip to China that Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had planned, was cancelled.

A witness cited by CNN said that several planes flew over the area and “a missile or similar device” hit the balloon. Later it was confirmed that an F-22 shot down the Chinese device, which after a small explosion began to fall.

US authorities hope to recover as much of the balloon’s remains as possible before they sink into the sea. In this way, they will be able to determine the real nature of the device and its functions.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that it was tracking the movements of a Chinese “spy balloon” flying over the state of Montana (northeast US), where one of the three existing nuclear missile silo fields on US soil is located.

China admitted that the balloon belonged to it, although it assured that “it is a civil airship used for research purposes, mainly meteorological.”

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