Iraq Shoots Down US Surveillance Plane
Iraqi anti-aircraft forces shot down a US spy plane Monday in the region of the southern port city of Basra, the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported.
In Washington, a Pentagon official admitted an unmanned US surveillance plane had been lost over southern Iraq.
"An unmanned plane didn't return to its base," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "The aircraft was in a mission over southern Iraq."
Iraqi officials said video evidence of the debris would be shown to journalists in Baghdad later Monday evening, said the agency.
"Iraqi anti-aircraft fire in the region of Basra on Monday brought down an American spy plane flying out of Kuwait," a military spokesman told INA.
The report did not say what type of aircraft had been hit, but added that it carried "high-tech intelligence-gathering equipment that the United States used in its aggression against Yugoslavia."
Sources told Al Jazeera satellite channel that the surveillance plane was state-of-the-art, and was indeed used by the US Air Force in its operation in the former Yugoslavia.
"It was operating in southern Iraq to gather information on our strategic sites and our anti-aircraft defenses," the Iraqi spokesman said.
Iraq announced August 17 it would beef up anti-aircraft defenses in a bid to stop US and British warplanes patrolling "no-fly" zones in the north and south of the country.
President Saddam Hussein met on Sunday with top army engineers and urged them to upgrade the country’s defenses.
Experts told the station that the shooting down of the plane will add to Iraqi experience in such operations.
But the plane, an expert said, is not as sophisticated as the F-16s and other warplanes used by the US and UK forces monitoring the no-fly zones.
According to AFP, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has claimed that Iraq has "quantitatively and qualitatively" improved its air defenses since a major air strike near Baghdad on February 16.
On July 19, a US Navy E-2 Hawkeye radar surveillance plane reported that an Iraqi surface-to-air missile exploded near it inside Kuwaiti airspace, Pentagon officials said.
An Iraqi surface-to-air missile nearly hit a high-flying U-2 spy plane over southern Iraq July 24, they said.
That was followed a week later by a sighting of an Iraqi surface-to-air missile into Saudi airspace, which was reported by the pilot of a US AWACS radar surveillance plane but discounted by Pentagon officials.
The reported actions came amid a debate within the US administration over its Iraq strategy, including the policy of aggressively enforcing the no-fly zones to contain Iraq.
There are almost daily clashes between Iraq and US and British planes patrolling northern and southern exclusion zones aimed at enforcing the military restrictions imposed on the regime after the 1991 Gulf War, according to the agency.
Iraq says 353 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured in raids by the United States and Britain since 1998, when the allies mounted a heavy punitive air raid on Baghdad – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)