U.S. aircraft bomb Iraqi missile site Iraq had launched missiles, pilots say

August 20, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- In what the Pentagon termed one of "the most serious" skirmishes since President Clinton took office, U.S. aircraft knocked out an Iraqi missile site yesterday after American pilots reported that two missiles had been fired at them.

The two U.S. aircraft, which were patrolling the United Nations-imposed "no-fly zone" over northern Iraq, took evasive action and then joined in retaliatory strikes against the site, five to 10 miles west of Mosul. Pentagon officials said cluster and laser-guided bombs damaged four Iraqi missile launchers and radar equipment.

Iraqi officials, in a statement released in Baghdad, admitted directing anti-aircraft fire at the U.S. planes but said they did so only in response to attacks from the Americans. They added that the U.S. planes "were driven away."

"This American claim [that Iraq fired first] is a fabricated lie and has no grain of truth," the Iraqis said.

Pentagon officials described the Iraqi attack as an isolated incident but said it marked a new level of aggression against U.S. forces since Mr. Clinton assumed office. The incident occurred about 5:30 a.m. Iraqi time.

"This was the first time these particular types of missiles have been launched and the first time two missiles have been fired at us at once," said Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Mike Thurwanger. "And in the past we always have been able to pick up the missiles on guidance radar first. But not this time."

At a briefing yesterday afternoon, Pentagon spokeswoman Kathleen M. deLaski said, "This is among the most serious" actions by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's military over the past eight months. On 20 occasions this year, Iraq has threatened U.S. aircraft.

"Whether this is part of a new push by Saddam Hussein, you'd have to ask him that," Ms. deLaski said. "It's hard to tell."

"We don't know enough about what happened on the ground to determine whether this is part of something larger than an isolated incident," she said.

"The incidents over the past months," she added, "have been different enough in nature and with enough period of time between them that they don't lead us to think that there's something necessarily brewing in a large way this week, for instance.

"But we still take it very seriously," and that is in part why the U.S. response was so quick, the Pentagon spokeswoman said.

The aircraft fired upon yesterday were a U.S. Air Force F-4G "Wild Weasel" electronic warfare plane and an Air Force F-16C. The F-16C dropped a cluster bomb on the Iraqi missile site.

Eight minutes later, another F-16C and F-4G flew over the site, and the F-16C dropped a cluster bomb.

Two F-15E "Strike Eagle" ground-attack jets were called into the area at that point, and they dropped laser-guided bombs.

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