U.S. Confronts Frustrated Hussein
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 1999 Saddam Hussein, in the aftermath of Operation Desert Fox, is venting his frustration by challenging coalition forces patrolling U.N.-mandated no-fly zones, Pentagon officials say.
"In the broad sense, it does appear that Saddam Hussein is frustrated and may be even desperate," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said Jan 5. "From everything we know, the raids caught him totally by surprise and were more damaging than we initially anticipated."
The four-day mid-December air campaign apparently has caused instability within Iraq and unrest among the Iraqi military, Bacon said. Defense officials have gotten reports that the strikes degraded Iraq's basic infrastructure, resulting in longer and more frequent brownouts.
"We see some anecdotal reports that popular confidence in his military and defense apparatus has been shaken because of his inability to protect the country," Bacon said. There also have been reports of more politically motivated murders -- "Assassination is one of Saddam's management styles," he noted.
Failing to rally support from his Arab neighbors, the Iraqi dictator is employing his only strategy -- defiance, according to the defense spokesman. Within the past two weeks, Iraqi missile sites have fired at patrolling coalition aircraft and Iraqi aircraft have violated the no-fly zones with some regularity, Bacon said.
"We're going through a period of challenge," he remarked. "We're responding to those challenges, and we'll continue to respond to those challenges."
An Iraqi missile site fired four surface-to-air missiles Dec. 28 at five patrolling U.S. Air Force fighters. The U.S. jets returned fire with three ground-attack missiles and six precision-guided bombs. On Dec. 30, an Iraqi air defense site fired six to eight anti-aircraft missiles at coalition aircraft; U.S. aircraft again retaliated with missiles and bombs. In both cases, U.S. forces returned safely to base.
After the strikes against the missile sites, Bacon said, Saddam stopped using his air defense sites, but became more aggressive with his airplanes. In two separate Jan. 5 incidents, Iraqi planes challenged U.S. fighters in the southern no-fly zone.
In the first incident, southwest of Baghdad at 2:15 a.m. Eastern Time, two Iraqi MiG-25 fighters illuminated two U.S. F-15s with their radars. The U.S. fighters responded by firing air-to-air missiles. According to Bacon, the Iraqis "beat a hasty retreat."
The second incident, 15 minutes later about 80 miles away, involved two F-14s from the carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Gulf. The U.S. fighters saw two Iraqi MiG-25s in the no-fly zone and fired Phoenix air-to-air missiles. The Iraqis took evasive action and retreated.
The U.S. fighters fired six missiles in all and returned safely to their bases, Bacon said. "Without getting into specific rules of engagement. Our planes are allowed to do what they need to do to protect themselves and to enforce the no-fly zone," he said.
Asked by reporters why the U.S. missiles missed, Bacon explained that air-to-air combat isn't easy.
"It looks easy in the movies," he said, "but it's not easy in real life." Iraqi planes, like U.S. planes, have radar detectors that tell when they're being targeted and when a missile is homing in on them, Bacon noted. "As soon as they detect that, they immediately change course, and the best way to change course is to make a U-turn."
Including these two incidents, eight no-fly zone violations occurred Jan. 5 and involved up to 15 Iraqi planes, Bacon said. Periodic violations are not uncommon in the zones, which cover about 60 percent of Iraqi air space, he noted.
"Typically, they dart into the no-fly zone," Bacon said. "Sometimes they go for a minute or two; some go for as long as 10 or 20 minutes. Many of these violations, particularly the deeper ones, have been taking place at times when they know our planes are not in the air."
The United States intends to remain aggressive in protecting the no-fly zones, he told reporters. "What happened today is an example of that. We are willing to go after [Saddam's] planes when we encounter them or when they challenge our planes."
Overall, Bacon said, U.S. policy to contain Saddam remains firm. "We've shown that we're willing to use significant force quickly and by surprise at the time of our own choosing," he said. "That remains an option on the table."