- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2023

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday said three objects shot down over the weekend in Alaska, Canada’s Yukon Territory, and over Lake Huron did not present danger to anyone on the ground. But he told reporters shortly after he arrived in Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense ministers that the still-unidentified crafts did present a risk to civil aviation and potentially an intelligence-collection threat.

The three objects shot down over the weekend are “very different” from the Chinese surveillance balloon that was taken out after it journeyed across North America earlier this month, Mr. Austin said.

“We knew exactly what [the first object] was — a [Chinese] surveillance balloon,” he said. 

He said the daunting task of debris recovery is now their priority. The Defense Department is working closely with the FBI and other federal agencies, along with Canadian officials, to get to the bottom of what happened. 

“Because we’ve not been able to definitely assess what these recent objects are, we’ve acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our security and interests,” Mr. Austin said. “We have teams working hard to track down the debris from over the weekend. Each of these recoveries is unique and each poses their own challenges.” 

Search teams have collected a “fair amount” of debris from off the South Carolina coast where the first balloon was shot down on February 4, 2023. The task has been more challenging for incidents over the weekend, however. In Alaska, the downed object landed on sea ice with the weather also a factor, Mr. Austin said.

SEE ALSO: White House to form interagency team to address unidentified aerial objects

“In the Yukon Territory, Canada is leading the recovery operations in the very remote area where the debris landed,” Mr. Austin said. “In Lake Huron, U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI are beginning operations to locate debris, in close partnership with the Canadians.”

While U.S. jet fighters have shot down four objects floating over the U.S. and Canada within the past several days, Mr. Austin denied that the newly-aggressive stance amounted to a change in policy.

“We will evaluate each and every event on its own merit and will make a decision based on the recommendations,” Mr. Austin said. “We want to make sure that we have the ability to examine what these things are and potentially what they’re doing.”

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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