By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The Pakistani military said on Wednesday a pilotless aircraft that crashed in the northwestern region of South Waziristan had been recovered, but the Pentagon denied any U.S. drone had been lost in the area.
Other countries with troops in the NATO-led force in neighboring Afghanistan use unmanned aerial vehicles, but the United States is the only one known to fly them inside Pakistan. Britain also said none of its aircraft operating in Afghanistan were missing.
A spate of recent missile attacks by unmanned U.S. aircraft in Pakistan has strained ties between the allies. Pakistan has said such attacks are a violation of its sovereignty and the army has vowed to defend Pakistani territory.
The U.S. military said on Wednesday one of its aerial vehicles had gone down with engine problems in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan, about 60 miles west of the Pakistani border on Tuesday, but U.S. forces had immediately recovered the aircraft.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the Pakistani and U.S. statements. Pakistan has not yet displayed the wreckage of the aircraft it said it found.
One Pakistani security officer, who asked not to be identified, said it was a U.S. aircraft.
â€œItâ€™s American. Itâ€™s theirs, no one else flies drones there,â€ the officer said.
According to earlier news reports, some tribesmen had claimed to have shot down the drone late on Tuesday but the security force officer said the aircraft had not been hit by ground fire.
â€œThe body of the plane is intact and there are no bullet holes,â€ the officer said, describing it as a small U.S. drone.
An intelligence official said the aircraft was about 3 feet (1 meter) long with a wingspan of about 5 feet.