Trudeau ordered takedown of unidentified object in Canadian airspace

Canada’s leader, Justin Trudeau, said Saturday that an unidentified object being tracked over Canadian airspace was shot down by the United States.

After U.S. and Canadian military aircraft were scrambled, a U.S. F-22 successfully shot the object down over the Yukon, he said.

The White House and Pentagon officials confirmed that the decision was made in consultation with President Joe Biden, who was informed Friday of the object’s presence.

“Following a call between the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States, President Biden authorized U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to work with Canada to take down a high-altitude airborne object over northern Canada today,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.

A White House official said a military recommendation was to take down the object out of an abundance of caution, and both leaders agreed.

Biden authorized U.S. aircraft under NORAD command to conduct the operation in close coordination with Canadian authorities, according to the official.

The object was known to the United States as early as Friday, and Biden was briefed about it at the time, the official said. It had been closely monitored by NORAD over the last 24 hours, and Biden received updates, according to the official.

Ryder subsequently said NORAD launched aircraft to follow the object Friday evening as it was over Alaskan airspace.

“Two F-22 aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska monitored the object over U.S. airspace with the assistance of Alaska Air National Guard refueling aircraft, tracking it closely and taking time to characterize the nature of the object,” the brigadier general said.

“I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace,” Trudeau tweeted Saturday.

“I spoke with President Biden this afternoon,” he added. “Canadian Forces will now recover and analyze the wreckage of the object. “

Trudeau thanked North American Aerospace Defense Command “for keeping watch over North America.”

An AIM 9X missile was used in the takedown, Ryder said.

Canadian authorities were conducting recovery efforts, he said. The FBI was working with Royal Canadian Mounted Police to probe the source of the object, he said.

According to a White House readout of Saturday’s call between Biden and Trudeau, the two discussed the importance of recovering wreckage in order to determine the object’s purpose and origin.

Saturday’s shootdown of an object in the skies over North America is the third in less than two weeks.

The command said Friday that it was continuing recovery efforts off the coast of South Carolina for a suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down Feb. 4. 

Saturday’s statement followed Friday’s takedown of what National Security Council official John Kirby described as a “high-altitude object” flying over Alaskan airspace and Arctic waters. Kirby said the object was “roughly the size of a small car.”

Efforts to recover what was left of the object were taking place near Deadhorse, Alaska, on Saturday, but the team was challenged by sea ice, wind chill, snow, limited daylight, and other conditions that envelop the region in winter.

The U.S. Northern Command said in a statement that its Alaska Command and the Alaska National Guard were coordinating with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. The effort was not explicitly connected to the suspected spy balloon of Feb. 4, but information on recovery efforts in the waters off South Carolina was included in the Northern Command statement.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told NBC’s “Nightly News with Lester Holt” on Friday that the balloon shot down one week before was “a threat to our sovereignty.”

The senator said she had received a classified briefing on the matter.

“We need to be clear…that we don’t tolerate this, period,” she said.

On Thursday, the Chinese Defense Ministry said the Feb. 4 balloon takedown “seriously violates international practice and sets a bad precedent.”

The ministry also described a unanimous resolution by U.S. House lawmakers condemning China’s use of the balloon as “political manipulation and hype.” Chinese government officials maintain it was a civilian airship.

Cristian Santana and Dan De Luce contributed.

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