The U.S. Navy conducted a mission to retrieve debris from the Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down over the weekend, landing off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command
Feb. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy conducted a mission to retrieve debris from the Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down over the weekend, landing off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 -- a team deployed to handle IEDs, chemical and biological threats, and underwater mines -- began collecting the debris on Sunday. U.S. Fleet Forces Command shared photos of the team pulling pieces of the balloon aboard its ship on Tuesday.
"At the direction of the President of the United States and with the full support of the Government of Canada, U.S. fighter aircraft under U.S. Northern Command authority engaged and brought down a high altitude surveillance balloon within sovereign U.S. airspace and over U.S. territorial waters Feb. 4, 2023," U.S. Fleet Forces Command said on Facebook.
The Navy also deployed at least five ships -- including the USS Carter Hall and USNS Pathfinder -- to sweep a 10-mile area off the South Carolina coast for remnants of the balloon that traveled across the United States last week, NBC News reports.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III said the balloon was being used by the People's Republic of China to surveil "strategic sites" in the United States, posing an "undue risk." China has maintained its denial that the balloon was used for any insidious purpose, calling it a civilian aircraft.
When Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning was asked Tuesday which company owned the Chinese balloons that have been spotted over several countries and what kind of information they were collecting, she said she had nothing to add.
Mao was then asked if China asked the United States to return the debris.
"The airship does not belong to the U.S. It belongs to China," she responded.
"The unmanned Chinese airship is of civilian nature. Its unintended entry into U.S. airspace is entirely unexpected and caused by force majeure. It didn't pose any threat to any person or to the national security of the US," Mao continued.
"The U.S. should have properly handled such incidents in a calm and professional manner not involving the use of force, yet they decided to do otherwise, which is a clear overreaction."
The United States, and more specifically President Joe Biden, have also faced politicized criticism at home over the handling of the surveillance balloon. House Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., said the hesitation to take the balloon down was a sign of weakness.
"Joe Biden should never have let this Chinese spy balloon in United States airspace," she tweeted.
"This shows unprecedented weakness on the world stage and this indecision sends an unacceptable signal to our adversaries and allies around the world," the tweet stated.
Recovery efforts began at about 10 a.m. on Monday, according to the Department of Defense. The FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service were dispatched with recovery teams to perform counterintelligence operations.