Pentagon Confirms Strike on Iraqi Neighborhood


  By Linda D. Kozaryn
 American Forces Press Service
26 January 1999

 WASHINGTON -- A U.S. missile fired at an Iraqi radar site Jan. 25 
 went astray and exploded in a residential neighborhood near the 
 city of Basra in southern Iraq. 
 At the time, U.S. forces were responding to provocative attacks 
 against coalition aircraft by targeting elements of Saddam 
 Hussein's air defense system, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said 
 here Jan. 26.
 "We have analyzed yesterday's information and found that an AGM-
 130 did miss its target and exploded in a residential 
 neighborhood several kilometers away from its target," Bacon 
 said. Other ordnance fired during the incident hit the military 
 targets at which they were directed, he added.
 Defense officials have no independent estimate of casualties or 
 fatalities resulting from the errant strike, Bacon noted. 
 Coalition forces take every step possible to avoid targeting 
 civilians or creating collateral damage, Bacon stressed. "We are 
 not attacking the people of Iraq. We have no animus against them 
 whatsoever. In fact, we have a lot of sympathy for the people of 
 Iraq. But we are attacking a large air defense system being used 
 in an attempt to defeat the policing of the no-fly zones." 
 Central Command officials are still investigating why the 
 missile missed its mark. "Precision-guided munitions, while 
 highly accurate, are not infallible," Bacon remarked. 
 Shortly after the Jan. 25 attack, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Anthony 
 C. Zinni, commander of U.S. Central Command and Operation 
 Southern Watch, met with reporters at the Pentagon. He said 
 Saddam Hussein is ultimately responsible for any civilian 
 casualties related to coalition air strikes against Iraqi air 
 defense sites.
 The commander noted that Hussein has increased the possibility 
 of collateral damage by placing his air defense systems, 
 military forces and aircraft in close proximity to civilians. 
 This use of human shields, he said, "clearly points out his 
 disregard and lack of care about his own population." 
 "We deeply regret any civilian casualties, regardless of what 
 the cause may be, but these exchanges have been initiated by 
 Saddam Hussein," Zinni said, and "No one can guarantee that 
 these strikes will not have errors or that we might not have 
 errant ordnance."
 In the Jan. 25 incident, Central Command officials said, two 
 U.S. Air Force F-15Es and four F/A-18s patrolling the southern 
 no-fly zone responded to threats from anti-aircraft artillery 
 and four Iraqi MiG fighters. They responded by dropping 
 precision-guided munitions and launching ground-attack missiles. 
 All coalition aircraft returned safely to base.
 Since Operation Desert Fox in mid-December, U.S. officials 
 report, the Iraqis have tripled the number of anti-aircraft 
 missile batteries in the south and have stepped up the pace, 
 intensity and coordination of their air defenses in the north 
 and south.
 Iraq's air defense system consists of jet fighters, anti-
 aircraft gun and missile batteries, radars and early warning 
 systems and communications, Zinni explained. In recent weeks, 
 more than 100 Iraqi aircraft committed more than 70 no-fly 
 violations, the Iraqis have fired missiles at coalition planes 
 in nearly 20 incidents, plus fired anti-aircraft artillery and 
 targeted coalition planes with radar.
 "It's evident to us that this entire system has been centrally 
 controlled and turned on to oppose our enforcement of the no-fly 
 sanctions, both north and south," he said. "We view this threat 
 as centralized and deliberate, and we view the entire air 
 defense system that's being set against us as the objective in 
 any response that we take." 
 Iraq's declared objective, according to Zinni, is to violate the 
 no-fly zones and to shoot down coalition aircraft. One can only 
 speculate about Hussein's purpose, whether it's to parade an 
 American pilot in Baghdad or to drum up support among other Arab 
 leaders, he said.
 "We've seen packages of [Iraqi] airplanes, two and three per 
 flight, coming down in coordinated fashion, working in 
 cooperation with surface-to-air missile -- SAM -- batteries, 
 trying to lure our plane into what has become known as 
 'SAMbushes,'" he said. U.S. pilots do not fall for the bait, and 
 Iraqi pilots are quick to leave the zones.
 Overall, Zinni remarked, these incursions may be acts of 
 desperation on Hussein's part. "What's the cure for this?" the 
 general asked. "A post-Saddam regime."
 Central Command officials said 12 Iraqi fighters committed five 
 no-fly violations in the south and one in the north Jan. 25. 
 Along with the reactive strike in Basra, other incidents 
 occurred where Iraqis in the north targeted coalition patrol 
 aircraft and fired on them with anti-aircraft artillery. Zinni 
 said U.S. aircraft struck back, firing on missile batteries and 
 other air defense facilities in the north and south.
 European Command officials said, coalition aircraft again struck 
 radar sites in the north Jan. 26 in response to Iraqi threats. 
 In one incident, a U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B fired a missile at an 
 Iraqi radar after being targeted. In three other, separate 
 engagements, Air Force F-15E fighters attacked air defense sites 
 with precision-guided munitions or missiles after being targeted 
 by Iraqi radar.