U.S. fighter jets attack military targets in southern Iraq
WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. and British fighter jets attacked two military targets in southern Iraq on Tuesday, Pentagon officials said.
The targets were facilities that provide command, control and communications support for Iraqi air defense fighter aircraft, one official said. More than a half-dozen U.S. and British strike aircraft carried out the attacks, accompanied by more than a dozen jammer and other support planes.
The attack came one day after U.S. forces lost an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft near Basra, in southern Iraq, but Tuesday’s action was planned in advance and not related to that incident directly, two U.S. officials said. The officials discussed the attacks on condition they not be identified.
They described the attack as part of a continuing effort to counteract Iraqi improvements to its air defenses.
Pentagon officials also said on Tuesday they had verified Iraq’s claim that it found the charred wreckage of the Air Force RQ-1B Predator aircraft that was lost over southern Iraq a day earlier.
Two U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while it appears certain the wreckage is from the lost Predator, it remains unclear whether the drone was shot down by Iraqi air defenses – as Iraq claims – or crashed as a result of a technical malfunction.
The wreckage was found near the city of Basra, about 30 miles north of the Kuwaiti border. Pentagon officials said a Predator was operating in that area at the time its controllers lost contact on Monday.
Iraq said its air defenses shot down the Predator, and Pentagon officials did not dispute that. They said they could not rule out the possibility that the Predator went down on its own.
Images of the wreckage were broadcast on Iraqi state television, and government newspapers trumpeted Iraq’s first downing of a U.S. aircraft since U.S. and British planes began patrolling ”no fly” zones over Iraq in 1991.
”Iraqi skies are a death zone for the enemy,” said the Al-Jumhuriya newspaper.
A photograph released by the Iraqi News Agency on Tuesday showed a purported piece of wreckage that bore two tags. A red label said ”Property of U.S.A.F.” A blue tag on an adjacent panel of the wreckage said ”U.S. Navy Prop.”
The Predator is an Air Force aircraft, but some contain Navy components.
Also visible from Iraqi TV images was a piece of wreckage displaying the name ”Sierra Monolithics.”
A California company, Sierra Monolithics Inc., makes communications components for unmanned aerial vehicles. Calls to the company’s headquarters in Redondo Beach, Calif., seeking details were not returned Tuesday, and Air Force officials at the Pentagon said they did not know whether Sierra Monolithics makes parts for the Predator.
Army Col. Rick Thomas, spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf area, said no sensitive technology was compromised by the loss.
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