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Atlantic Engagement: US Takes Down Chinese Balloon in Mid-Air Duel

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The US has shot down a Chinese balloon which was allegedly spying on key military sites across America. The Department of Defense confirmed that the fighter jets brought down the balloon over US territorial waters. China expressed “strong dissatisfaction and protest” against the US’s use of force. The footage of the incident showed the balloon falling to the sea after a small explosion. The F-22 jet fighter engaged the balloon with one AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, which went down about six nautical miles off the US coast. The debris landed in 47ft of water near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the military is now trying to recover the spread-out debris over a distance of seven miles.

A senior defense official stated that “while we took all necessary steps to protect against the China surveillance balloon’s collection of sensitive information, the surveillance balloon’s overflight of US territory was of intelligence value to us.” The official added that “We were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable.” President Biden was under pressure to take down the balloon since defense officials announced that they were tracking it on Thursday. He later complimented the aviators who successfully took it down.

China claimed that the airship was for civilian use and entered the US due to a force majeure and was completely an accident. However, the US saw it as an unacceptable violation of US sovereignty, leading to a diplomatic crisis and the cancellation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China. Taiwan also released a statement condemning China’s actions, which violated international law and the airspace and sovereignty of other countries.

President Biden approved the plan to take down the balloon on Wednesday, and the Pentagon decided to wait until it was over water to avoid putting people on the ground at risk. The operation was facilitated by the FAA briefly pausing all civilian flights at three airports around the South Carolina coast and the coast guard advising mariners to leave the area. An eyewitness reported seeing three fighter jets circling before the missile was fired, followed by a huge boom.

A senior military official stated that the recovery of debris should be “fairly easy” and could take a “relatively short time.” Defense officials also revealed that the balloon first entered US airspace on January 28 near the Aleutian Islands and was later spotted in Montana, which is home to sensitive nuclear missile sites.

China sought to play down the cancellation of Blinken’s trip, stating that neither side had formally announced a plan for the trip. China’s foreign ministry accused “some politicians and media in the US” of using the incident as a pretext to attack and smear China. The Pentagon reported a second Chinese spy balloon was spotted over Latin America, with reported sightings over Costa Rica and Venezuela. Colombia’s Air Force detected an identified object, believed to be a balloon, in the country’s airspace at above 55,000ft, but it did not pose a threat to national security. China has not yet commented publicly on the reported second balloon.

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