By Tara Copp, Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — The first U.S. missile fired at an unidentified aerial object over Lake Huron missed the target and “landed harmlessly” in the water before a second one successfully hit, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.
The acknowledgment of the errant missile by Gen. Mark Milley came amid questions about whether the government was creating unnecessary risk by shooting down aerial objects that military officials say didn’t pose a security threat.
In Washington, Pentagon officials met with senators for a classified briefing on the shootdowns. Lawmakers conveyed concerns from their constituents about a need to keep them informed and came away assured the objects were not extraterrestrial in nature. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said the recent spate of interceptions was likely to have a “calming influence” and make future shootdowns less likely.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters after exiting the briefing that he didn’t think the objects posed a threat.
“They’re trying to figure out — you know there’s a bunch of junk up there. So you got to figure out what’s the threat, what’s not. You see something, you shouldn’t always have to shoot it down,” Graham said.
Milley said the military went to “great lengths” to make sure the strikes did not put civilians at risk, including identifying what the debris field size was likely to be and the maximum effective range of the missiles used. He also said in each case the Pentagon works to make sure that the air space is clear, and to evaluate the potential debris field, before embarking on such a strike.
“We’re very, very careful to make sure that those shots are in fact safe,” Milley said. “And that’s the guidance from the president. Shoot it down, but make sure we minimize collateral damage and we preserve the safety of the American people.”
The object taken down Sunday was the third in as many days to be shot from the skies. The White House has said the objects differed in size and maneuverability from a Chinese surveillance balloon that U.S. fighter jets shot down earlier this month, but that their altitude was low enough to pose a risk to civilian air traffic.
Weather challenges and the remote locations of where the three objects were shot down over Alaska, Canada and Lake Huron have impeded recovery efforts so far, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Monday.
Milley was in Brussels with Austin to meet with members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on additional weapons and defense needs for Kyiv in advance of Russia’s anticipated spring offensive.
Fox News was the first to report the missed missile strike.
Lisa Mascaro and Stephen Groves contributed reporting.
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Featured image: U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)