In a dramatic end to a story that unfolded last week, the U.S. military succeeded in shooting down of the coast of South Carolina what was suspected to be a Chinese spy balloon, as the Associated Press reports.
The action prompted threats of potential retribution from the government in Beijing, which claimed that the balloon was conducting civilian weather research, and as such, its demise at the hands of the Americans could bring serious repercussions.
After days of traveling in a southeasterly direction over the middle of the United States, the massive white balloon was seen Saturday morning above the Carolinas heading toward the Atlantic Ocean.
Once the Federal Aviation Administration declared a pause on departures and arrivals from three airports in the region – in Wilmington, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina – the mission to down the balloon was soon underway.
At roughly 2:39 p.m., a military F-22 fighter jet punctured the orb with a missile as it flew approximately six nautical miles from the South Carolina coastline.
According to the AP, debris from the balloon fell into waters with a depth of 47 feet, and it dispersed itself over nearly seven miles, an area which will be traversed by dedicated recovery teams and a salvage vessel.
NPR reported that a statement issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin indicated that President Joe Biden provided the necessary authorization to shoot down the balloon at any point after it had been determined that such a mission could be carried out without serious risk to civilians on the ground.
Austin further noted that commanders in the military ultimately deemed too dangerous the idea of bringing the balloon down over land, because of the orb's high altitude and associated surveillance equipment.
Biden reiterated on Saturday that even though he had given the needed permissions on Wednesday, his military advisers suggested, “Let's wait 'til the safest place to do it,” and that was the reason for the days of delay.
Unsurprisingly, officials in Beijing registered their irritation over the balloon's downing, saying that China may yet “take further actions” in response to what leaders there called an “obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international peace.”
On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry stated that it “strongly disapproves and protests” what occurred over the ocean and blamed American politicians and journalists for what was a “hyped up” story designed to “attack and smear China,” as Fox News noted.
Though the Biden administration's attempts to downplay and distract from the controversy surrounding the balloon, numerous Republican lawmakers are slamming the president for waiting so long to take action against the threat.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott (SC) declared that the balloon “should have been shot down before it crossed the continental United States, not after,” adding, “[w]e still don't know what information was collected and where it was sent. This was a dereliction of Biden's duty, and let's hope the American people don't pay a price.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) painted an even bleaker picture of what the incident means to Chinese leaders, saying Sunday, “[t]he message they were trying to send is what they believe internally, and that is that the United States is a once-great superpower that's hollowed out, it's in decline. The message they're trying to send the world is, 'Look, these guys can't even do anything about a balloon flying over U.S. airspace. How can you possibly count on them if something were to happen in the Indo-Pacific region?”