U.S. Sends More Planes to Persian Gulf
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 1999 The United States is sending more planes to the Persian Gulf in light of Saddam Hussein's persistent violations of the no-fly zones over Iraq.
Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, Central Command chief, said he's asked for eight more F-16CJ fighters and four more aerial refueling tankers for Operation Southern Watch.
Since Dec. 23, when Hussein declared the no-fly zones invalid, there have been more than 40 violations, Zinni said Jan. 8 at the Pentagon. The majority occurred in the south, according to defense officials. Each violation involved one or more Iraqi aircraft entering the zones north of the 36th parallel or south of the 33rd parallel.
In some instances, Zinni explained, Iraqi planes race down, tuck their noses into the zone and retreat. In others, a number of Iraqi aircraft, working in cooperation with ground-based, surface-to-air missile systems, conduct tactical maneuvers against coalition aircraft.
"Clearly, [Hussein's] trying to lure us into a possible shoot- down situation, and we're taking every measure to prevent that," Zinni said. As a result of the recent intrusions, Central Command officials have adjusted their tactics, procedures and how they package forces going into the zone, he said.
The United Nations imposed no-fly and no-drive zones after the Gulf War to prevent Iraq from attacking his people, particularly minority groups such as the Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims and Marsh Arabs in the south. The zones also are designed to prevent Saddam from attacking his neighbors. U.S. and coalition aircraft have been enforcing the northern zone since 1991 and the southern zone since 1992.
In the past seven to eight years, U.S. and coalition air forces have flown more than 140,000 sorties in the no-fly zones, which cover 60 percent of Iraqi air space, Zinni noted. "Any time we fly into Iraqi air space ... we treat it as flying into a potentially hazardous situation," he said. "Never do our pilots go in unprepared for any eventuality."
The Southern Watch commander expressed confidence in America's technical superiority and pilot skills. "Our pilots are smart enough not to fall for traps or to get themselves in some sort of maneuver position where they're vulnerable or follow a plane into a missile engagement zone," he said.
U.S. forces have fired on Iraqi aircraft and missile sites during five confrontations in the past few weeks. In an incident Jan. 11, two U.S. F-15Es dropped precision-guided bombs and an F-16CJ fired a ground-attack missile at an Iraqi missile site that had turned on its tracking radar against them in the northern zone.
Considering the robust defensive action U.S. forces take, Zinni said, Iraqi pilots do not appear enthusiastic about engaging coalition aircraft. "These planes do not want to come close where they can be engaged by [our] superior technology and pilot proficiency. They want to cheat and retreat."
The pilot of an Iraqi fighter jet that reportedly crashed when it ran out of fuel, for example, was probably "pressing that MiG-23 pedal to the metal so hard that he didn't look to his gas gauge," the general remarked.
Asked whether the United States is considering strikes on Iraqi airfields to stop the incursions, Zinni replied, the U.S. forces are "taking action based on what Saddam's doing."
"We have rules of engagement that allow us to react not only to a hostile act, but even to hostile intent," he said. "If we get 'illuminated' [detected by enemy radar], if we see a plane coming at us and it's clearly identified by our battle management birds as a fighter moving in, we take the shot. We've done that. We've been very proactive."
Taking additional steps beyond that, however, calls for a policy decision by the president. "If that [decision] were made, we could execute that, but right now, given the situation that we have, we feel confident that we've made the adjustments to handle it."
Saddam is capable of irrational military acts, Zinni told Pentagon reporters. He said contingency plans on the shelf could be executed if there are further Iraqi provocations, and, "We have plans for everything."