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President Joe Biden returned to the White House from Camp David Monday to say it was ‘always’ his intention to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon that a U.S. military jet downed on Saturday.
His comments came amid ongoing pressure from Republicans in Congress and criticism that he should have acted sooner, with congressional committees set to look into the matter and lawmakers demanding further briefings.
Asked if it was always his view to shoot it down, Biden responded, ‘Oh no, it was always my position. Once it came over into the United States from Canada, I told the Defense Department I wanted to shoot it down as soon as it was appropriate.’
‘They concluded we should not shoot it down over land, it was not a serious threat and we should wait until it got across the water.’ His comments came as the Pentagon revealed the spy balloon was 200-feet-tall and included a massive payload – one reason officials raised concerns about the risks posed by flying debris in the event of an operation to down it over land.
‘They concluded we should not shoot it down over land, it was not a serious threat and we should wait until it got across the water,’ President Biden said, describing advice he got from the Pentagon about the Chinese spy balloon
The president was also asked why he thought China would commit such a ‘brazen’ act.
After a long pause, he responded: ‘Because they’re the Chinese government.’
His comments came minutes after White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the shoot-down over the waters off the South Carolina coast.
She said it ‘wasn’t just the safest option, it maximized the chance of recovery’ of the payload, ‘giving us a better chance to get information from the Chinese surveillance.’
As Navy divers work to recover debris from the downed Chinese spy balloon, a top general said Monday that the U.S. is investigating whether it was carrying explosives, describing it as 200-feet tall, weighing thousands of pounds and with a payload the size of a jetliner.
‘So, I can’t confirm whether it had explosives or not. Anytime you down something like this, we make an assumption that that potential exists,’ said Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command, on a briefing call with reporters.
‘We did not associate the potential of having explosives with a threat to dropping weapons, those kinds of things, but out of a precaution, abundance of safety for not only our military people and the public, we have to make assumptions such as that.’
Biden came back late from Camp David after prepping for his State of the Union address Tuesday
The general’s description followed a briefing by National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who defended President Joe Biden’s decision to wait and shoot down the Chinese craft until it was over South Carolina’s coastline on Saturday.
‘Because the president decided they wouldn’t shoot it down until he could do so safely – and that meant over water – that afforded us a terrific opportunity to gain a better understanding, to study the capabilities of this balloon,’ he told reporters on a call.
The Chinese spy balloon was 200 feet tall, weighed thousands of pounds and its payload was the size of a jetliner, a top Pentagon official said Monday
The Chinese spy balloon after it was shot down by an F-22 on Saturday over South Carolina’s coastline
Biden ordered the balloon shot down Wednesday, but under the advice of the U.S. military, it was held off until Saturday, with the Air Force sending an F-22 fighter jet armed with an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile to do the job over water.
The delay opened Biden up to political attacks from Republicans, many of whom demanded it shot down above land shortly after it was first reported to be flying above Montana.
‘The time that we had to study this balloon over the course of a few days last week, we believe was important and will give us a lot more clarity, not only on the capabilities that these balloons have, but what China is trying to do with them,’ Kirby said.
‘It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention and I understand there’s criticism over the fact that it traversed the United States, but again, we took steps to mitigate whatever collection capability that balloon would have over our sensitive military sites,’ he added.
Kirby wouldn’t specify what precautions were taken during the balloon’s multi-day flyover.
Video of balloon debris was shared by South Carolina news outlets, coming in on a boat near North Myrtle Beach on Sunday.
The remains of the Chinese spy balloon are seen on a boat near North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, answers questions about the Chinese spy balloon and the U.S. military response
The debris field is the size of ‘more than 15 football fields by 15 football fields, according to the Pentagon.
VanHerck said the majority of the debris had been collected, but there was a possibility some could come ashore, and warned people to call the authorities and stay away from it.
Weather conditions had yet to allow undersea recovery efforts to fully begin, Kirby said.
But Kirby argued that the remains of the balloon would be helpful to the U.S.
‘Our efforts to surveil this balloon and what we will learn from the recovery will prove to be valuable,’ he said.
In this photo provided by Brian Branch, a large balloon drifts above the Kingstown, N.C. area, with an airplane and its contrail seen below it.
Kirby declined to answer a question about whether Chinese President Xi Jinping had ordered the balloon mission or was even aware of it.
‘I would like to refrain from getting into any discussions about our intelligence assessments of this,’ he said.
Kirby noted the balloon incident ‘has done nothing to help improve the U.S.-China bilateral relationship.’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken delayed a planned trip to China over the balloon debacle.
Chinese balloons flew over the U.S. three times during former President Donald Trump’s administration, with Biden administration officials saying that those flights weren’t known about until after the current president was sworn-in.
Biden officials have said they would brief Trump-era officials on the balloon flights, but neither Kirby nor Jean-Pierre would say which officials would receive the briefings and whether that would include the ex-president himself.
‘I will say that from every indication that we have that was for brief periods of time, nothing at all like what we saw last week, in terms of duration,’ Kirby said of the previous balloon incursions.
Source: DailyMail UK