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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday January 12, 1999

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD(PA)
January 12, 1999 1:30 PM EDT

Capt. Doubleday: Good afternoon. I don't have any announcements. But in the event anybody missed it, I'll bring you up to date of the event earlier this morning. This occurred at 11:00 Iraq time, which by my calculations, [is] about 4:00 a.m. [3:00 a.m.] our time here on the East Coast. There was a U.S. F-16CJ which was conducting routine no-fly zone enforcement over northern Iraq and fired a high speed anti-radiation missile, HARM missile, at an Iraq early warning radar which was operating as part of an integrated Iraq surface-to-air missile system. This occurred near the city of Mosul. And as in the past, this was done because this was part of a system that was a threat to coalition forces there enforcing the no-fly zone. The aircraft and aircrew involved in the incident returned safely to their base. The damage to the Iraqi site is still being assessed. And we will continue to enforce the no-fly zone in the north and also in the south.

Now, if there are any questions on this one, I'll be happy to answer.

Q: Mike, the incident yesterday, they also said that damage was being assessed as you said today. Do you have any information at all about --

A: No, I don't have any update for the activities yesterday when several different missiles were fired.

Q: Why haven't they been providing -- you haven't been providing information lately about the results of the attack ... in the earlier ones, but rather, quickly were providing video --

A: When we can, we seek to do so. When because of limitations with regard to our capabilities of battle damage assessment -- when we can't, we don't.

Q: What are the limitations?

A: Well, in some cases, cloud cover and other impediments like that. But I don't want to get into too many details.

Q: This is the latest of what, about three or four incidents all around the vicinity of Mosul in about the last week or so. Do we have any readout of what Iraqi assets are in Mosul? Do they seem to be skittering about?

A: What, the Iraqis? No, I think the best way to characterize Iraqi activity over the past several weeks actually has been that they have been attempting to challenge the enforcement of the no-fly zone, both on the ground in their integrated air defense systems and also in the air with these periodic incursions they make into the no-fly zones. There were a number of those that occurred today, as they have in past days, both in the south and in the north. And I think this fits into the overall pattern that the Iraqis have established over the last several weeks which show an intent to be provocative with regard to these no-fly zones.

Q: You say that there were several today. Can you give us the readout --

A: There were in the south, five violations involving MiG 21's, 23's, 25's and at least one F-1. And in the north, there were two involving MiG 21's and F-1s.

Q: Were they today, did they actually get their missile launched before --

A: No. There was no launch of a missile. As I say, this was an early warning site which was fully integrated into their SAM system. And certainly, when our pilots and aircrews feel threatened by the activities of the Iraqis in the no-fly zone, we take action to protect pilots and aircrews. And this was exactly what happened in this case.

Q: In the recent -- in all of the recent instances in which U.S. planes have fired weapons, they've been either actively targeted, or they were fired on by missiles. Was that the case in this incident? And if not, has there been any change in the rules of engagement for U.S. and British planes patrolling the no-fly zones?

A: Well, Jamie, I think as you know, we don't talk about rules of engagement. But I will say that from the outset, the establishment of the no-fly zones, both in the north in 1991 and in the south in 1992, we have continually said that is it our policy to enforce the no-fly zones and to take measures which we deem appropriate to protect our pilots and aircrews. And that's what we've continually done. What's changed in the last several weeks is a decision, evidently, on the part of Saddam Hussein to challenge the no-fly zones. And as I said just a minute ago, you've seen this in the actions that he's taken with regard to flights into both the southern and the northern no-fly zones and the use of his integrated air defense systems and SAM systems against coalition aircraft that are trying to enforce these no-fly zones.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: The environment as a result of these actions is a different environment from what it was six months ago. It's an environment that is very highly charged. But the thing that has not changed is we have said from the very outset that our pilots and aircrews are going to take those measures that they feel are appropriate to protect themselves.

Q: Nevertheless, in response to the increased threat that you've just outlined, have U.S. pilots been given any new guidance about how they should respond to these provocations?

A: I'm not going to get into operational details. I think you can understand that we don't want to reveal to the Iraqis any details they may find valuable as they go about these challenges. What we are consistent in doing -- what we have done from the outset in both cases, is to enforce the no-fly zones and to take any actions that we feel are appropriate to protect our pilots and aircrews. We'll continue to do that.

Q: On the five violations, were any U.S. aircraft in those areas at the time, or were there any confrontations, or was it strictly the very timid --

A: No. In fact, in the south and in the north today, there were no aircraft in the vicinity when those violations took place.

Q: Along the lines of what was asked just a minute ago, should we understand this incident as the pilot's individual decision or as a planned effort to deal with a specific problem? In other words, did the patrol go out with the intention of doing what it did, or was that merely a response to the situation?

A: First of all, I'm not going to answer your question directly. I will say two things though. First of all, I want to emphasize this radar site, this early warning radar site, is part of an integrated system. This is not something where people get on the telephone. Think of it kind of like those strings of firecrackers that as young people we sometimes lit off. You only light one fuse. But within nanoseconds, the whole bunch of them are going off. This was the first step in an integrated system which ultimately could have shot down one of our aircraft. That didn't happen. And we will take actions in the future that are appropriate to prevent that kind of thing from occurring. The other thing that I will say is that we, all over the world, empower our commanders who are in charge of forces to ensure that they take measures that are necessary to protect those forces. And certainly, that is true of any aircraft commander, any pilot who is in command. He's going to take those actions which are going to protect him, his aircraft and his crew.

Q: Do you know what type of SAM batteries were being fed by this radar? And how quickly did it go off the air?

A: I don't have that level of detail.

Q: Two questions. Did it go off the air? And secondly, is this the only Iraqi early warning radar in the northern part of the country or is this one of eight or one of ten?

A: I can't give you a total quantity, but I would say the number of this type of radar systems throughout the country numbers in excess of 100.

Q: This early warning radar is the type of radar that's been active regularly in the past and is linked to the integrated air defense system thats not directly linked to anti-aircraft missiles. It's the type of target -- it is a specific target that the U.S. and Britain have chosen not to strike in the past. That does represent a change in approach or in policy, if not in rules. How can you say that it's not a change in the rules? Is it technically not a change in the rules of engagement? Change in instruction? What are the parameters for our pilots shifted at all? What is the change?

A: The change is the environment that has been created by Saddam Hussein, which has repeatedly manifested itself in threats to coalition aircraft that are trying to enforce the no-fly zone.

Q: But our pilots have responded in kind by changing --

A: Our pilots today and in 1991 and in 1992 have the authority to take actions that are appropriate to protect themselves.

Q: But in the past they've chosen not to take out sites like this.

A: I'm not going to, number one, provide any kind of detail about ROE or our tactics. Just not going to get into operational details. I'm also not going to use comparisons of activities a year, year and a half, two, three, four years ago with activities now. The environment is totally different today than it was in past times. And the environment certainly plays a major role in the kinds of responses that we make to threats.

Q: But it's clear to people who watch it closely, including the Iraqis, for example, that this is a change in the way that we're going about doing business there.

A: It is clear to the Iraqis, if they have been watching our activities over the past years, that we are enforcing the no-fly zone. We have done that since 1991 in the north, since 1992 in the south. We ourselves, the United States, have flown over 140,000 sorties in support of the no-fly zones since they were first started. With coalition aircraft, almost 200,000 if you include that number. And we're going to continue doing that.

Q: The first time we've hit an early warning radar in a heck of a long time.

A: This is not the first time we have hit a radar that is associated with a SAM site. And we are certainly not going to take chances on our aircrews and pilots who are enforcing the no-fly zone.

Q: Mike, does the U.S. military have a handle on what the strategy of Saddam's armed forces, the enemy's armed forces in this case, is about? Are they trying to drive the U.S. and British planes out of the no-fly zone? Are they trying to draw blood? Are they trying to shoot down a plane so they might have some little bit of victory? Or what has happened?

A: I think that their overall goal is to get rid of all of the constraints on Iraq. And those constraints are no-fly zones, sanctions, the inspections of their weapons of mass destruction. All of the things that the international community is concerned about. All of this is designed -- all of these actions on the part of the international community, sanctions, inspections, no-fly zone, was to contain Iraq and to keep Iraq from threatening its own population and threatening its neighbors and continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Q: Mike, is the United States more aggressively enforcing the no-fly zone in response to Iraq's defiance and challenge of the no-fly zones?

A: We are continuing to enforce the no-fly zone as we have for many years. We are taking actions appropriate to the threats that exist in the no-fly zones. We will continue to enforce the no-fly zones, and we will continue to take actions that are appropriate to protect our pilots and our aircrews.

Q: Are you saying there's no change in the way that you're enforcing the no-fly zone?

A: I am not characterizing any kind of activity other than to say that we are going to continue to do what we have done for these many years, and we are going to continue to protect our pilots and our aircrews as they go about this enforcement.

Q: Understanding that you don't want to divulge any rules of engagement or tactics, can you at least say whether U.S. pilots have been given new guidance in the last couple of days that are enforcing the no-fly zone?

A: Nice try, but we went through that one before. I want to say one more time because --

Q: You won't answer that question?

A: No, I'm not going to go into any kind of tactics, rules of engagement, anything like that. I think it is clear from all the actions that have been reported for the past several weeks that certainly the Iraqi approach to the no-fly zones has changed. And our actions in response have been appropriate and have been essentially responsive to the provocations that the Iraqis have made.

Q: Ken Bacon and Gen. Zinni last week mentioned, talked about the fact that Iraq had increased the number of surface-to-air missile batteries in the both the northern and southern no-fly zones. Does the mere presence of those batteries violate the no-fly zone?

A: Well, we've said in the past that Iraqi air defense systems, that their SAM systems, when they are in these no-fly zones and when they are used against the planes that are enforcing the no-fly zones, are a violation and we will take action as appropriate to respond to these violations.

Q: Do you reserve the right, then, to strike any of these missiles that have been moved into the no-fly zone regardless of whether they're actually turned on or --

A: I'm not going to forecast any kind of action that we might take except to say that we'll continue to enforce the no-fly zones.

Q: I'm not asking to forecast. I'm just saying do you have the right to strike those if you chose?

A: I am saying that we will take actions that we deem appropriate to enforce the no-fly zones and to protect our pilots and aircrews.

Q: Does that include preemptive action?

A: I'm not going to get into any kind of speculation of what kinds of activities it might involve. What I'm going to say is that we'll continue to enforce the no-fly zone; we'll protect our pilots and aircrews.

Q: If I could understand just a couple of factual things. Was this radar actually operating at the time it was fired on?

A: It was actually operating.

Q: Has it been operating in the same way in recent days, weeks, months?

A: I can't give you a history of it. But certainly today, it was operating as part of this integrated system and presented a threat to the aircraft that was involved in the no-fly zone enforcement.

Q: You don't know if it's been --

A: I don't know the history of the specific site. And I don't think that's relevant either. I think the relevance here is that here was a system that was involved in the initial process of acquiring and perhaps firing a missile at one of our aircraft and an appropriate action was taken to respond to that threat.

Q: But Mike, it is relevant for the very reason you described, that what's changed here is the threat. So a radar that might be operating routinely and not be perceived as a threat by the United States, say a week or two ago or maybe a month ago, in today's environment in which Iraq has threatened to shoot down a plane, has been aggressively attempting to carry out that threat, that same radar operating the same way might today constitute a threat. And that's why it is relevant whether it's been operating -- has been operating the same way. Or is this a radar that's been silent for months and suddenly was just turned on today?

A: I can't answer your question of what the history of this particular radar site is.

Q: Mike, was it integrated to more than one --

A: Let me just get this one and I'll be right back.

Q: I just wanted to ask about the type of radar. I just want to make sure this radar, the concern about this radar, was that it was tied to SAM batteries. It was not that it was using this data from this radar to vector his planes in and out of the no-fly zone, but being able to watch where U.S. planes were?

A: It was part of an integrated SAM system.

Q: What was he actually doing, what was its purpose? Was it to monitor allied aircraft in the no-fly zone for purposes of vectoring in and out, or was it -- is it a radar that in the end actually feeds SAM batteries?

A: It was -- it feeds SAM battery.

Q: Was it integrated with more than one SAM site?

A: I can't tell you. It was certainly integrated with at least one SAM site.

Q: Any indication they were trying to set up a SAM trap by any chance?

A: Well, it's conceivable that there was a SAM trap also involved in this thing. That's certainly the approach that the Iraqis have taken in many of these instances. But I don't believe that in this particular case that it was necessarily that.

Q: You said that there were about 100 of these types of radar --

A: I said there were more than --

Q: More than 100 of these types of radars all over Iraq. Have they never presented a threat before? Can you explain why --

A: I'm not sure of the history of these radars, whether it is a new system that would integrate them into an overall system or whether this has been done in the past. Certainly, the activities of the Iraqis over the last several weeks show that they're being aggressive on a variety of fronts. And this was manifested today in this --

Q: What I'm just not getting is what is it that happened today that made this one a threat as opposed to the last several weeks with more than a hundred of these radars?

A: I'm not sure in the past that they have been active in this way.

Q: Mike, since the four days of raids in December, how many times have missiles actually been launched at or near U.S. aircraft?

A: I don't think we've had any cases where we've had a missile that actually was close to one of our aircraft. We have taken action that essentially precluded that.

Q: How many times has that happened? How many times have our aircraft --

A: I don't have with me -- we can give you a rundown on the total number of incidents that have occurred over the past several weeks. We can get that for you, but I don't happen to have that with me right now.

Q: But can you say then these aircraft can evade these types of missiles readily?

A: We certainly are very conscious of what is going on both in the north and the south. We have a variety of assets which are available to us to keep apprised of what the Iraqis are up to. And we've used all of those to the full extent to ensure that when we fly these missions, that our crews are protected to the fullest extent. And that's what we'll continue to do in the future as we go about enforcing these no-fly zones.

Q: What's the status of the additional F-16s and tanker aircraft that have been dispensed --

A: They have not arrived, but they should be there by late this week.

Q: Are those planes going to be augmenting the forces in the south?

A: South.

Q: Can you say where they're going? What country --

A: I can't tell you where they're going, but they'll be deploying to bases in the region there. Actually, you know, there are some tankers also involved in this. I think the deployment is going to involve both the fighter aircraft and also the tankers. And the exact bases, I think you know that we don't reveal exactly where they're going.

Q: Do you know where the 16's are coming from?

A: Hold on just one second. They're coming from Shaw Air Force Base. And do I have -- eight of the F-16s and the tankers number four.

Q: Can you add anything or give any more detail on a report that's being -- that Baghdad has offered a bounty for U.S. pilots?

A: No, but I think that this is consistent with the other provocative activities that have been going on recently. And it certainly is another of the litany of activities that leads us to be very watchful of activities in the north and the south.

Q: Is this -- this did happen as far as --

A: I know no more about [that] than I have read in the newspapers. But certainly, that is among the things that we are hearing about -- that are coming out of Iraq. And certainly, that among other pieces of rhetoric that we've heard from Saddam Hussein, as Gen. Zinni mentioned last week, and actions that were taken by the Iraqi legislature, all of these things put together certainly indicate a direction that they are taking that is certainly provocative.

Q: Did you notice recently these last several days some significant movement of troops, of Iraqi troops?

A: No. We've not noticed any significant movement of ground forces there, no.

Q: With this threat of shooting down one of our airplanes, did you beef up any kind of air rescue assets to get people if they do, in fact, get shot down?

A: I think you know that we always have capabilities when we undertake any kind of missions with a threat associated, we always have a SAR capability, a rescue capability. And that certainly is true in this case. I don't want to get into details about what the configuration of those forces are, but we maintain very capable forces for exactly that purpose.

Q: Mike, does DoD have any indication that there was one or more organized coup attempts by dissident factions within the Iraqi military while DESERT FOX was on-going?

A: I think Gen. Zinni talked about this last week, and he outlined some of the activities that have been going on. But I don't believe we have any specific independent information regarding coup attempts.

Q: ...type designation on the early warning radar you took out...

A: I don't. I don't have that.

Q: Capt. Doubleday, regarding the increased number of surface-to-air missiles Iraq has put in the no-fly zone, can you either give us some numbers of how many additional missiles have been moved in or in some other way characterize the increase --

A: No. Well, I think Ken, last week, indicated that there has been increased activity in both the south and in the north. And he at that time indicated he wasn't going to get into numbers. I'll adhere to that policy.

Q: What about -- have you had any movement of Iraqi aircraft? And have any of those aircraft either moved to bases or from bases that are actually located in the no-fly zones?

A: There have been -- there has been some movement of Iraqi aircraft from bases. I can't, at this point, characterize for you the extent of it. But we have seen some movement of aircraft operating from bases that they previously had not operated from.

Q: Bases in the no-fly zone?

A: In fact, bases in the no-fly zone, right.

Q: Are those planes then subject to strike by virtue of the fact that they flew into the no-fly zone to land there?

A: I think you know that our policy has always been that aircraft that fly in the no-fly zone are certainly subject to the enforcement activities.

Q: Even if they're on the ground at the time?

A: I'm not going to get into that kind of detail. But certainly, aircraft that are in the no-fly zone providing any kind of militarily significant activity are subject to enforcement activity.

Q: Were these movements, I'm just guessing here, were these movements by any chance at night when U.S. planes were not patrolling the no-fly zone?

A: I can't tell you what time of day or night it would have been.

Q: Were they all fixed wing, or were there some helicopters involved as well?

A: Can't give you a breakdown. I just don't happen to know.

Q: If I'm understanding correctly, it seems that the policy now is that, when radars are turned on that may be potentially hostile, that they're subject to attack. Is it also true air bases from which aircraft that may be potentially hostile are launched are targets as well?

A: I'm not going to provide you a target list, but I will say that, certainly, actions that we believe are threatening, as we have always said, are going to be dealt with, and we'll continue to enforce those no-fly zones in the north and the south.

Q: Do you expect an escalation or de-escalation from Saddam --

A: I make no predictions where that man is involved.

Q: Would you say that fighter jets on the ground in the no-fly zone pose a threat to U.S. planes?

A: I think that I would leave that kind of a decision up to the commanders to make. And I would not want to predict what their decisions might be.

Q: Thank you.

A: Your welcome.