Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Yes, Iran, U-2

The military is reporting the crash of a U2 spy plane in "Southwest Asia," a/k/a "the Middle East." The exact location of the crash hasn't been divulged because of, depending on whom you ask, "host nation sensitivities" or "security reasons." But it's not too difficult to figure out:

- The plane was operating out of the United Arab Emirates.

- The plane was returning from a mission over Afghanistan.

Presumably, there would be no "host nation sensitivities" at stake if the plane had crashed over Afghanistan (which admits to hosting US troops), or over the UAE (which admits to hosting US troops), or over the Persian Gulf (which is a body of water that has no government to object to its territory being overflown by U-2 spy planes).

Kinda narrows it down, doesn't it? Barring some kind of bizarre flight plan -- which would be unnecessary, as the US could have flown its Afghanistan recons from its airbase in neighboring Uzbekistan if it wanted to avoid overflying Iran -- the plane went down over Iran. And no, I'm not telling secrets. Anyone who hasn't figured this out already either doesn't own a globe or can't read.

So: Is the UAE, as host nation, "sensitive" to having the fact that it's hosting spy aircraft which are overflying Iran publicized? Or is Iran the host nation, involved in some kind of secret, not-to-be-mentioned agreement to let US spy planes cross its airspace en route to Afghanistan? The safest bet is on the former, of course ... and the map reveals something else, too.

The U-2 is a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, flying at heights of up to 70,000 feet. Given its likely flight footprint over Iran, and its high altitude, this was either a catastrophic malfunction that killed the pilot or rendered him unconscious before he could react, or else the plane was shot down. If the pilot was conscious and had any control of the aircraft at all, he could have, and almost certainly would have, gotten it out over water before ditching.

The lips in Tehran seem to be sealed -- seems the Iranians don't want an international incident over the matter. If it crashed, they're studiously ignoring the violation of their airspace; If they shot it down, the intent is to send a "don't screw with us" message to Washington rather than a "Washington is screwing with us" message to the world.

Either way, it's always sad to see a pilot go down. Slipping the surly bonds of earth is risky business, especially at 70,000 feet at any altitude when bad guys are down below.

Now let's see if "been there, been shot at, all I got was this damn t-shirt" airplane driver John Stone cares to tear my assessment apart.

Addendum: I don't go back and change essential parts of posts -- that would be dishonest. So consider this the "I was wrong" part. The U-2 crashed in the UAE, not Iran. Why this had to be kept secret for any length of time, I don't know, unless the UAE was nervous about admitting to hosting planes that are obviously overflying Iran. It's been public knowledge that the US bases planes in the UAE at least since the first Gulf War. Anyway, it crashed in the UAE, and that means it's very extraordinarily unlikely that it was shot over Iran. My bad.

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