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Iraqi Plane Shoots Down American Predator Unmanned Aircraft

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2002 – An American Predator unmanned aerial vehicle was "assumed lost" today over southern Iraq, U.S. Central Command officials said.

A CENTCOM news release says the reconnaissance drone was reported missing after being fired upon by Iraqi military aircraft.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. officials are assuming the aircraft was shot down. "It is not a fact," he said. "We do not know for sure that it was shot down."

Rumsfeld said he doesn't see this as an escalation of tensions in Iraq. Rather, it is merely a continuation of a perilous situation for coalition aircrews.

"(The Iraqis have) been making a strenuous, energetic effort to shoot down U.S. aircraft for many, many, many months now manned and unmanned," the secretary said.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted Iraq has been trying to shoot down coalition aircraft for several years. He called today's incident "a lucky shot."

Myers also remarked that this is not the first time Iraqi forces have shot down a Predator. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed that at least twice, and possibly three times, Predators have been shot down in the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq.

Twice in 2001, on Aug. 27 and Oct. 10, Iraq shot down Predator aircraft. Another Predator lost on Sept. 11, 2001, is believed to be the result of hostile fire, but defense officials haven't confirmed this, the spokesman said.

He noted the previous incidents were the result of ground- based anti-aircraft fire. This is the first known incidence of an Iraqi airplane shooting down a coalition aircraft in either no-fly zone.

Only once before has an Iraqi pilot had such success against a coalition aircraft. Coalition forces' only air- to-air loss during the Gulf War was the plane of Navy Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher. His F/A-18 was shot down Jan. 17, 1991, the first day of the air war over Iraq.

Four months later he was listed as killed in action/body not recovered. Conflicting reports and intelligence information since then led the secretary of the Navy in 2001 to change Speicher's status to missing in action.

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