Iraqi Air Defenses Fire on No-Fly Patrols; Maritime Interdictions Up
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 26, 2002 Iraqi air defense weapons fired 10 times on coalition planes enforcing the northern no-fly zone over the past couple of days. The coalition responded this morning by dropping precision-guided munitions on elements of an Iraqi integrated air defense system, the U.S. military's senior officer said in the Pentagon today.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told media this afternoon that 10 is "a significant number" of attacks in two days.
He also said coalition naval forces, including sailors from the U.S. 5th Fleet, have diverted 21 vessels trying to smuggle oil out of Iraq. Maritime intercept operations board and divert vessels that may be violating U.N. sanctions, Myers noted.
The 21 vessels were not tankers, but rather smaller dhows, traditional Arab sailing vessels. The chairman said he believes the tanker captains have resorted to downloading their illicit cargo to the dhows because they can more easily evade international forces.
Myers said he has seen indications Iran has closed off its waters to Iraqi oil smugglers, and he believes this is why the numbers of vessels interdicted has risen.
He said the 10 attacks on Operation Northern Watch planes doesn't indicate increased capabilities for the Iraqis. "We know they have pretty good capability actually," Myers said in response to a reporter's question.
However, Myers said it's important for the American people to know about the nature of the threat . "While we have coalition forces over there enforcing the U.N. sanctions, we have a country that's firing at our pilots and putting them at risk," he said. "I think that's important for people to understand that we have Americans and other countries' air crews at risk trying to do what the U.N. said we ought to do."