US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that a fighter plane managed to shoot down the Chinese airship off the coast of South Carolina, and that the process of recovering its wreckage is underway, while Beijing expressed its strong dissatisfaction with Washington's use of force to attack its airship.
The minister added that the Pentagon had developed a number of options to drop the balloon safely over territorial waters, and that this was done with full coordination and support from the Canadian government.
He explained that an F-22 fighter fired a single missile at the airship, and confirmed that no collateral damage or civilian casualties were recorded.
Austin said that President Joe Biden gave an order to shoot down the balloon, provided that the lives of Americans are not endangered, noting that its wreckage spreads over 7 miles.
The US secretary added that the operation came in response to an "unacceptable violation of our sovereignty," stressing that the balloon was used by China in an attempt to monitor strategic sites.
For its part, Reuters quoted a Pentagon official as saying that the airship is part of a Chinese fleet that is spying on 5 continents.
Commenting on the downing of the Chinese balloon, President Biden said he ordered it to be shot down as soon as possible when he received a briefing on it on Wednesday, and congratulated the pilots who carried out the downing.
On the other hand, Reuters quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry as saying that Beijing expresses its objection and dissatisfaction with the US use of force to shoot down the balloon.
China called for careful and calm handling of the balloon issue, and Director of the Office of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi said that his country and the United States should maintain focus and communicate in a timely manner.
In a phone call Friday with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the Chinese official added that the two countries should avoid miscalculation and manage differences well in the face of unexpected situations.
Operations are underway to recover the wreckage of the airship with the participation of divers, and a senior military official said that the wreckage fell in shallow waters, which "will make it very easy."
And video clips broadcast by American channels showed the balloon as if it was falling vertically.
According to the Associated Press, the balloon was shot down after it passed sensitive military sites across North America.
At the time of its downing, the balloon was 18 km above sea level and 11 km from the coast, according to Pentagon officials.
Prior to the operation, the US Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority announced the suspension of air traffic at 3 airports in the southeastern United States as part of a "national security" measure, and air traffic resumed soon after the end of the operation.