Miranshah, Pakistan: In a rapidly escalating series of events the Pakistan Army said Wednesday that it was investigating the crash of a suspected unmanned US spy plane, which tribesmen in this frontier area claimed to have shot down. The incident comes even as tensions continue to build up between Washington and Islamabad over US missile strikes and ground incursions on Pakistani territory.
The late Tuesday crash occurred in the frontier tribal area of South Waziristan, which for long has been a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
"A surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), while flying over the Pak-Afghan border yesterday night, crash-landed on this side of the border... apparently due to malfunctioning," a Pakistani military spokesman said in a statement.
"The wreckage of the UAV has been recovered from the site by the security forces personnel and the matter is under detailed investigation," the spokesman said.
The statement did not say who the drone belonged to but reports quote security officials as saying it was an American aircraft.
The Pentagon denied its drones were involved in the incident, while the CIA declined to comment. "We have no reports of any loss of DoD (Department of Defense) drones," said Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wright.
Meanwhile, residents in the town of Angoor Adda, where the spy plane crashed, said it was shot down at low altitude by residents of the area.
"This pilotless plane was flying over Waziristan unchecked overnight when it was shot down at low altitude by residents of the area near the Afghan border," Malik Mirgul, a tribal elder in Angoor Adda, told AFP.
Pakistani officials said troops retrieved the drone from locals. They also said troops had not fired on the drone.
Local residents said drones resumed their flights over South Waziristan and neighbouring North Waziristan on Wednesday morning and that tribesmen had targeted another spy plane in a nearby area on Wednesday but failed to hit it. They said more drones were circling the crash site.
The incident takes place just two days after Pakistani officials said their troops repelled an attempt by two US helicopter gunships to cross into Pakistani airspace in neighbouring North Waziristan.
Early on in the month, on 3 September, in a first ever incident of its kind US forces carried out a ground attack on Pakistani soil, in which 15 people were killed.