LOW-grade war in Iraq is intensifying as U.S., British planes make multiple strikes

Wednesday, August 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. and British attacks on Iraq's air defenses have intensified in recent days, indicating the Pentagon's growing concern about the risk to pilots enforcing ``no-fly'' zones in the north and south.

On Tuesday, U.S. and British fighter jets attacked two military targets in southern Iraq, one day after an unmanned Air Force reconnaissance aircraft was lost near the southern city of Basra. The Pentagon has acknowledged losing the Predator drone but is not sure whether Iraq shot it down.

Tuesday's targets were facilities that provide command, control and communications support for Iraqi air defense fighter aircraft, one U.S. 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 Iraqi News Agency, offering the Iraqi government's first reaction to the raid on al-Ahrar in Nasiriya province, said two civilians were killed and accused U.S. and British pilots of aggression. ``This peaceful village was far away from any military site,'' the agency said.

The attack was planned in advance, unlike many previous strikes in which U.S. or British pilots encounter Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery or surface-to-air missiles while on patrol and fire back in self-defense, officials said.

The officials discussed the attacks on condition they not be identified.

They described the attacks as part of a continuing effort to counteract Iraq's improvements to its air defenses. Last Saturday U.S. and British planes attacked a mobile early warning radar in southern Iraq. And on Monday allied pilots bombed a surface-to-air missile site in northern Iraq.

Iraq considers allied flights in its airspace to be illegal and has vowed to shoot down a U.S. or British pilot.

If the Predator drone was shot down by Iraqi air defenses _ as opposed to having crashed due to mechanical failure _ it would be Iraq's first success against a U.S. or British aircraft since the air patrols began in 1991.

The drone's wreckage was located 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.

Images of the wreckage were broadcast on Iraqi state television, and government newspapers trumpeted the crash as a shoot-down.

``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 plane, 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.