Pentagon: US to Retaliate for Iraqi Attack on Spy Plane
The United States is planning a military response to Tuesday's attempted shootdown of a U-2 spy plane over Iraq's southern no-fly zone, Pentagon sources told CNN Thursday.
Although the United States bombs Iraqi air defenses on a regular basis, the sources said targets this time would likely include early warning radar systems which Iraq uses to track the high-flying, slow-moving U-2s.
The radar sites, last hit by US and British warplanes in February, have since been rebuilt, along with a fiber optic network linking them, installed with Chinese assistance.
"We don't think to this day that it has been completely reconstituted to the level that it was on the day of the strike, and yet it has largely been reconstituted," said Pentagon spokesman Adm. Craig Quigley said.
Pentagon sources said this week's close call in which a souped-up Iraqi surface-to-air missile exploded close enough to rattle a single-seat US U-2 spy plane was the latest of some two dozen attempts by Iraq to shoot down reconnaissance planes this year.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has offered a reward for the shooting down of any allied plane patrolling the no-fly zones, which are a US-UK project without UN backing.
In the latest incident, Pentagon sources said a high-altitude missile -- such as an SA-2 or SA-3 -- came close enough to a U-2 that the US pilot felt the shock wave from the explosion, which occurred an undetermined distance below the plane.
There was no damage to the spy plane, which was "patrolling" over the southern no-fly zone in Iraq at the time of the incident.
On June 21, Pentagon officials said their "best guess" was that Iraq had fired a surface-to-air missile at a US aircraft patrolling above Kuwait, allegedly the first time Baghdad has fired outside their own airspace since the 1991 Gulf War.
The missile failed to hit the US target, and American patrols continued normally, a Pentagon official said at the time.
The northern and southern no-fly zones were ostensibly imposed to protect Kurdish and Shiite groups from attacks by Iraqi forces.
Baghdad does not recognize the zones and has repeatedly defied US and British forces patrolling them by air.
In a related development, Iraq said on Monday that its anti-aircraft system hit an "enemy" US or British plane flying over the northern exclusion zone, but the Pentagon denied the claim, said AFP then.
Iraq's air defense system "repulsed the enemy aircraft, which were raiding the Dohuk, Erbil and Niniv provinces," an Iraqi military official said, cited by AFP.
"Indications are that one of the planes was hit."
But the claim was denied by Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott, a Pentagon spokeswoman, who said, "There is no truth to the report." – Albawaba.com
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