President Joe Biden has faced sharp criticism over the manner in which his administration appeared to delay taking action against the Chinese spy balloon that traversed much of the continental United States last week before finally being shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
That criticism may have played a role in the fact that Biden swiftly ordered the military to shoot down an unidentified object flying in U.S. airspace over Alaska on Friday, according to a CNN report.
The order given by the president to shoot down the unidentified object over Alaska was revealed in separate briefings at the White House and Pentagon, and when asked later on Friday for comment about the incident earlier that day, Biden simply said, "It was a success."
The news was first shared during Friday's briefing at the White House by National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, during which he responded to a question about rumors of a second Chinese spy balloon being shot down near Alaska.
"So, I can confirm that the Department of Defense was tracking a high-altitude object over Alaska airspace in the last 24 hours. Alt- -- the object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight," Kirby said. "Out of an abundance of caution and at the recommendation of the Pentagon, President Biden ordered the military to down the object. And they did, and it came inside our territorial waters. Those waters right now are frozen -- but inside territorial airspace and over territorial waters."
Later, in response to multiple follow-up questions, Kirby said, "Yes, the President absolutely was involved in this decision. He ordered it at the recommendation of Pentagon leaders. He wanted it taken down, and they did that. They did it using fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command."
He added, "We’re calling this an 'object,' because that’s the best description we have right now. We do not know who owns it, whether it’s a -- whether it’s state-owned or -- or corporate-owned, or privately owned. We just don’t know."
Kirby was asked numerous other follow-up questions but largely refrained from providing much in the way of additional details, aside from that the unidentified object had first been noticed and tracked on Thursday, was approximately the size of a small car, and did not appear to have the same sort of maneuverability or payload structure as the spy balloon from a week prior.
Similar information was shared by Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder in a Pentagon briefing later on Friday afternoon, during which he confirmed that the "object" had been spotted and tracked by ground radar, was observed up close by fighter jets, was deemed to pose a threat to civilian aircraft due to its altitude and lack of maneuverability, and was ultimately shot down following an order to do so by President Biden.
He also confirmed that the object had crashed on frozen waters off the coast of northeastern Alaska in the Arctic Circle but still within sovereign U.S. airspace and waters, and that efforts were already underway to recover and further study the debris -- hopefully to positively identify what, exactly, the object actually was.
Ryder further revealed that the observation of the object had been conducted by F-35 fighter jets but that the shootdown had been performed by an F-22 armed with AIM-9X missiles -- the same kind of aircraft and weaponry that had been used less than a week earlier to take down the Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
The general also used the briefing to provide an update on the ongoing efforts to fully map the underwater debris field of the massive balloon and retrieve as much of that debris as could be lifted to the surface, though those efforts have been hampered by rough seas in the area.
There are certainly plenty of unanswered questions about the "object" -- both Ryder and Kirby each referenced it as an "aircraft" and "balloon," respectively, but quickly corrected themselves -- and what it might be, what it was doing, and who it belongs to. Hopefully, those answers will be forthcoming in future briefings.
For what it is worth, and whether due to the prior criticism over the spy balloon incident or not, President Biden took decisive action to order this particular object shot down before it had a chance to slowly traverse across the country and potentially spy upon or pose some other unknown risk to the American people and the nation's heartland.