The US military has officially shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to NBC News. Department of Defense officials have yet to confirm the balloon being shot down. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a ground stop in several parts of South Carolina and North Carolina, closing additional airspace on Saturday afternoon. These departures were paused “to support the Department of Defense International Security effort,” according to a representative who told CNBC.
President Joe Biden officially broke silence about the balloon for the first time, telling reporters, “We’re gonna take care of it.” The balloon was initially spotted over Billings, Montana on Wednesday afternoon. Defense officials say that the Pentagon was considering shooting down the balloon this week, but they decided against it after a briefing from President Biden. The decision was then made in constellation with senior leaders, which included defense secretary Loyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
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Biden went on to conclude that the United States would not shoot down the balloon due to debris from it that could cause damage on the ground and hurt individuals, according to the Pentagon. They noted that any information that the balloon connects would then have “limited additive value” compared to China’s spy satellites.
According to China’s foreign ministry, the balloon was a civilian weather airship that was intended for scientific research that was blown off course. It described the incident as a “ force majeure”.”
The claim was then dismissed by US officials with senior Pentagon officials telling reporters that the object was clearly a surveillance balloon flying over sensitive sites in order to collect intelligence.
“We have noted the PRC statement of regret, but the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law and is unacceptable that this has occurred,” the official noted.