U.S. planes bomb targets in northern Iraq in response to missile firings
WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. Air Force planes bombed an air defense site in northern Iraq Tuesday and President Bush pledged to keep Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s military ambitions ”in check.”
In a brief announcement on Tuesday’s attack north of the city of Mosul, the U.S. European Command said U.S. pilots acted in self defense after Iraq launched surface-to-air missiles and fired anti-aircraft artillery.
Officials said it was not a planned attack in response to the recent near-miss Iraqi attack on a U.S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance plane.
European Command said the U.S. aircraft, which flew from an air base in south-central Turkey, departed Iraqi airspace safely.
In Baghdad, the official Iraqi News Agency quoted an unidentified military spokesman as saying Tuesday that ”American and British warplanes bombed civil and service installations.”
”Our heroic missile units confronted the enemy warplanes, forcing them to leave our skies for Turkey,” the spokesman said.
The Iraqi News Agency reported no casualties.
Vacationing in Texas, Bush defended the missions as a necessary response to Iraqi provocations.
”Saddam Hussein is a menace and we need to keep him in check and we will,” Bush told reporters. ”He’s been a menace forever and he needs to open his country for inspection so we can see whether he is making weapons of mass destruction.”
Bush said he had been briefed on the U.S. retaliation. ”Our military can make decisions as they see fit to protect our pilots, unless of course it’s close to Baghdad, in which case it requires my approval. The missions that took place were fully in accordance with established allied war plans.”
Tuesday’s incident was the latest in a long-running series of attacks and counterattacks in northern and southern Iraq, where U.S. and British aircraft enforce ”no fly” zones established shortly after the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq considers the ”no fly” zones to be illegal and has mounted a sustained effort to shoot down a U.S. or British plane.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last Friday that Iraq has rebuilt its air defenses since U.S. and British warplanes attacked radar and communications targets around Baghdad on Feb. 16.
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