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Iraq Pulls Back Air Defenses

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 1999 – Evidence indicates Saddam Hussein is pulling back some of his air defenses from the contested no-fly zones, but according to William S. Cohen, "only the Shadow knows" what the Iraqi dictator plans for the future.

"I don't think anyone should speculate what's going on in terms of his planning," the defense secretary told reporters at the start of an eight-day trip to Spain, Germany, Tunisia and South Africa.

Cohen traveled to Europe Feb. 4 to discuss with European allies the situation in Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia, and the upcoming NATO 50th anniversary summit slated for April in Washington. In Spain, he was to meet with local defense officials to talk about expanding Rota Air Base to give the United States more strategic airlift capabilities and ways to improve dialogue with Meditteranean region.

A few hours prior to landing at Torrejon Air Base outside Madrid, reporters asked the secretary to confirm that Saddam Hussein is withdrawing from his persistent confrontations in the U.N.-mandated no-fly zones.

Almost daily for more than a month, Iraqi forces have targeted and fired upon coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones. Coalition aircraft have responded, attacking Iraqi air defense sites and anti-ship missile sites with missiles and precision-guided munitions.

At one point, U.S. military officials said Saddam had tripled the number of surface-to-air missile systems in the zones.

"We did see a significant increase of his surface-to-air missiles moving into the no-fly zones," Cohen said. We saw an increase in some of his MiGs coming across the no-fly zone boundaries and then skirting back toward Baghdad. We've now eliminated some of his SAMs and radars and there's evidence that he's pulling back."

Cohen said it's unclear whether Saddam's recent movement of mobile missile systems and other air defense assets is a tactical move prior to future operations, or an effort to protect his long-term interests by pulling out of the U.N.- mandated zones. The situation may shift day to day, he said.

No matter what Saddam is up to, Cohen said, "we're prepared to continue to contain him. To the extent that Saddam's forces pose a threat to coalition forces in the region, "then they're going to be hit," he said.

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