U.S. shoots down unidentified object in Canadian airspace

A U.S. fighter jet shot down an unidentified object in the skies over Canada on Saturday on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s orders, Canadian and U.S. officials confirmed.

After U.S. and Canadian military aircraft were sent aloft, a U.S. F-22 successfully shot the object down over the Yukon, Trudeau said Saturday afternoon in a tweet.

The operation was coordinated by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the combined U.S.-Canada air defense organization.

Saturday’s shootdown of an object in the skies over North America is the third in less than two weeks.

In a streamed news conference Saturday evening, Canada’s defense minister, Anita Anand, described the object as cylindrical and smaller than an object that was recovered off the U.S. coast after it was shot down Feb. 4. She said it was otherwise “potentially similar” to the one that was shot down off South Carolina.

On Saturday, the object was shot down at 3:41 p.m. ET, about 100 miles from the U.S.-Canada border and 40,000 feet aloft after crews in U.S. and Canadian aircraft put eyes on it, Anand said. She described the area as central Yukon.

“This was the first time that a NORAD operation has downed an aerial object,” Anand, noted. “The importance of this moment should not be underestimated.”

The White House and Pentagon officials earlier Saturday confirmed that the decision was made in consultation with President Joe Biden, who was informed Friday of the object’s presence.

“Following a call between the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States, President Biden authorized U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to work with Canada to take down a high-altitude airborne object over northern Canada today,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.

A White House official said a military recommendation was to take down the object out of an abundance of caution, and both leaders agreed.

Biden authorized U.S. aircraft under NORAD command to conduct the operation in close coordination with Canadian authorities, according to the official.

The object was known to the United States as early as Friday and had been closely monitored by NORAD over the last 24 hours, with Biden receiving updates, according to the official.

Ryder subsequently said NORAD launched aircraft to follow the object Friday evening as it was over Alaskan airspace.

“Two F-22 aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska monitored the object over U.S. airspace with the assistance of Alaska Air National Guard refueling aircraft, tracking it closely and taking time to characterize the nature of the object,” the brigadier general said.

“I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace,” Trudeau tweeted Saturday.

“I spoke with President Biden this afternoon,” he added. “Canadian Forces will now recover and analyze the wreckage of the object. “

Trudeau thanked North American Aerospace Defense Command “for keeping watch over North America.”

An AIM 9X missile was used in the takedown, Ryder said.

The FBI was working with Royal Canadian Mounted Police to probe the source of the object, he said.

Anand said debris was being recovered Saturday night. Although the object’s origins were not yet known, the defense minister said Canada and the United States needed to proceed with “eyes wide open” to the possible involvement of China.

According to a White House readout of Saturday’s call between Biden and Trudeau, the two discussed the importance of recovering wreckage in order to determine the object’s purpose and origin.

Later Saturday, NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) reported that fighter aircraft had been sent to investigate a radar-detected “anomaly” in airspace over Montana.

“Those aircraft did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits,” the agencies said in a statement. “NORAD will continue to monitor the situation.

Airspace in the area was closed temporarily.

NORAD and other agencies were still grappling with earlier incursions. The command said Friday that it was continuing recovery efforts off the coast of South Carolina for a suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down Feb. 4. 

Saturday’s incident over the Yukon followed Friday’s takedown of what National Security Council official John Kirby described as a “high-altitude object” flying over Alaskan airspace and Arctic waters. Kirby said the object was “roughly the size of a small car.”

Efforts to recover what was left of the object were taking place near Deadhorse, Alaska, on Saturday, but the team was challenged by sea ice, wind chill, snow, limited daylight, and other conditions that envelop the region in winter.

The U.S. Northern Command said in a statement that its Alaska Command and the Alaska National Guard were coordinating with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. The effort was not explicitly connected to the suspected spy balloon of Feb. 4, but information on recovery efforts in the waters off South Carolina was included in the Northern Command statement.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told NBC’s “Nightly News with Lester Holt” on Friday that the balloon shot down Feb. 4 was “a threat to our sovereignty.”

On Saturday, she commended U.S. military efforts to take down the object over Canada and said Americans need to know as much as possible about the apparent incursions.

“I will continue to encourage maximum transparency so that Alaskans have the greatest possible understanding of what they are and what we are doing, on the front line of our nation’s defense, to take them safely out of the sky,” Murkowski said in a statement.

Fellow Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska urged rapid recovery and investigation of the object shot down over Canada “to fully understand the nature of the threat we are facing right now.”

On Thursday, the Chinese Defense Ministry said the Feb. 4 balloon takedown “seriously violates international practice and sets a bad precedent.”

The ministry also described a unanimous resolution by U.S. House lawmakers condemning China’s use of the balloon as “political manipulation and hype.” Chinese government officials maintain it was a civilian airship.

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