By Savannah Pointer
A bipartisan group of Montana lawmakers called out the Biden administration for its response to the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon floating over the United States.
The Chinese balloon drifting through United States airspace was first spotted in Montana, and video footage of the object prompted speculation about why the aircraft might be in American airspace.
According to authorities, the Pentagon decided against shooting down the balloon due to concerns about harming people on the ground. Additionally, there were concerns that tensions, already high between the United States and China, could become even more strained.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) spoke to the issue, telling Fox News Digital, “What the Pentagon has said was we didn’t want to shoot it down because of the chances of civilian casualties. This is a balloon that didn’t get here overnight. It was over the Aleutian chain, which is one of the most sparsely populated places on the planet.”
Both of Montana’s senators spoke to the issue, with Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) also voicing strong disapproval, saying the United States’ treatment of the Chinese balloon was an outrage and an embarrassment on the world stage.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who chairs the Senate panel that controls the Pentagon budget, said he would receive a classified briefing on the incident when he returns to Washington.
“This provocation is completely unacceptable, and I am in close contact with Department of Defense and Intelligence officials,” Tester said in a statement Friday morning, according to Politico. “We are still waiting for real answers on how this happened and what steps the Administration took to protect our country, and I will hold everyone accountable until I get them.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the People’s Republic of China responded to a question about the unmanned airship that was spotted over the United States.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” the ministry said on its website. “Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
The Montana lawmakers aggressively disagreed with the Pentagon’s decision not to strike back at the aircraft. Zinke said he believes there is “no doubt” that American forces could have shot down the balloon without endangering civilians. Additionally, Zinke asserted that some Montanans would not object to the balloon being shot down over the state.
Zinke commented, “In Montana, Petroleum County, for example… the least populated county in the lower 48, I guarantee you, the fine citizens of Petroleum County would enjoy having it shot down over their county, and probably there would be a line to shoot it down.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.