Pentagon Responds to Iraqi Threats Against Allied Hosts
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 1999 Despite Iraqi threats of attacks against coalition bases in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the United States remains committed to enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq and containing Saddam Hussein.
Threats "will get him nowhere," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said here Feb. 16. "Any attack by Iraq against one of our allies in the region would be a severe mistake and would be met with a very swift and sure response."
The threats are a sign of Saddam's increasing desperation and isolation, Bacon said. "He's tried diplomacy with his neighbors. He's tried to cajole them into supporting his position, and that's failed. His neighbors -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey -- have all made it very clear that they believe he should honor the U.N. Security Council resolutions."
Since late December, Iraq has persistently violated the no-fly zones and aggressively challenged patrolling coalition aircraft. In response, U.S. and British forces have attacked Iraqi missile and air defense sites with missiles and precision-guided munitions. U.S. and Iraqi forces have engaged in almost daily confrontations.
"They have turned on their radar. They have fired anti-aircraft batteries and also fired missiles at our planes over the last month and a half," Bacon noted. "We have responded properly against these attacks, and we will continue to respond properly against these attacks."
U.S. pilots act in self-defense, doing "the best they can to protect themselves and to carry out their missions," he said.
As a result of the coalition strikes, Iraq has sustained fairly heavy losses to its integrated air defense system, Bacon said. "I have no reason to believe that those damaging counter strikes will end until Iraq stops challenging the coalition aircraft policing the no-fly zone."
Threats against coalition forces and neighboring nations that support coalition air operations are Iraq's latest form of defiance. Incirlik Air Base near Adana, Turkey, is one of Iraq's threatened targets. The Turkish base hosts U.S. and British air forces supporting Operation Northern Watch. Bacon said the facility is at the very outer edge of the range of Scud missiles.
Incirlik is protected by Patriot missile batteries deployed recently at the request of the Turkish government. "They will stay there as long as our Turkish allies feel that they're needed," Bacon declared.
U.S. Patriot batteries also protect coalition forces in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and at other bases in the region, he said. "I'm not aware that we've been asked to increase our deployments. We've been very quick to respond to requests that we've gotten from countries in the region."
Iraq could use Scuds, aircraft or terrorism to attack U.S. and coalition forces, Bacon noted. The United States takes Saddam's threats seriously, he stressed, and is prepared to counter any attack.
"We maintain a very significant counterattack or deterrent capability in the region. That's why any use of missiles or any other way to attack allied bases in this area would be a huge mistake on Saddam Hussein's part," Bacon said.
Following the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi officials declared they had destroyed all their Scuds, but U.S. officials believe Iraq may still have some. "This is one of the central reasons why we had arms inspectors working for years in Iraq trying to get to the bottom of whether or not they have destroyed all their Scuds," Bacon said.
A government report issued last year said Iraq had purchased 819 Scuds from the Soviet Union and that U.N. inspectors had accounted for all but two, he said. "But there's also the possibility that Iraq was able to manufacture some Scuds on its own out of parts that it had either manufactured or purchased over the years, and we don't have full visibility on that."
U.S. officials doubt Iraq has "significant air power to be able to launch a longer range attack against bases deep inside another country's territory." But even if Iraq did, Bacon said, "it would be extremely unwise for them to try to do that given the air defenses that are in the area."