US warplanes bomb Iraqi air defenses south of Baghdad; fourth strike in less than two weeks

Tuesday, September 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. fighter jets attacked Iraqi air defense forces south of Baghdad on Tuesday, marking the fourth such assault in southern Iraq in less than two weeks, defense officials said.

In a brief announcement, U.S. Central Command said the attack was in response to recent Iraqi ``hostile threats'' against the American and British aircraft that regularly patrol the skies over southern Iraq.

The announcement gave few details beyond saying the targets were Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile sites.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the targets were near the city of As Samawah, about 130 miles southeast of Baghdad. They were attacked by U.S. Air Force F-16s and U.S. Navy F/A-18s. The Navy jets were launched from the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

The attack happened at about 9 a.m. EDT.

U.S. forces have been attacking air defense targets in southern Iraq with increased regularity.

Last Thursday, four Air Force F-16 fighter jets attacked a long-range radar stationed at Basra airport in southern Iraq. U.S. officials said the radar was not active at the time of the attack but had been used in the past to coordinate Iraqi air defense targeting of U.S. and British aircraft in the area.

On Aug. 25, U.S. and British warplanes attacked a mobile radar in southern Iraq, and on Aug. 28 they hit an Iraqi aircraft command and control facility.

U.S. and British aircraft regularly patrol southern and northern Iraq to prevent Iraqi forces from attacking Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south and to provide early warning of Iraqi troop movements toward Kuwait.

Iraq considers the ``no fly'' zones illegal and has vowed to shoot down an American or British pilot.

Central Command, which is responsible for all U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf area, said there have been 1,015 separate incidents of Iraqi surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery fire directed against U.S. and British aircraft since December 1998.