- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey — The help Iraq has received from China and other countries to strengthen its air defenses is increasing the risks to U.S. and British pilots flying over northern and southern Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
After meetings with senior Turkish government officials in Ankara, Mr. Rumsfeld visited Incirlik Air Base in south-central Turkey and spoke with U.S. pilots who patrol the northern zone and told him of the heightened danger.
From inside an aircraft hangar, Mr. Rumsfeld praised the troops for risking their lives to help contain Iraqs military and limit the threat to the Kurds in the northern region of the country.
"For all the difficulties you face, you do it remarkably well. Your resolve helps keep that still-dangerous regime in check," Mr. Rumsfeld told a few hundred troops, representing all the U.S. services, as well as the British and Turkish militaries.
A U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who has flown missions over northern Iraq since February said in an interview the threat from that countrys air defenses has become greater in recent months.
"The threat has increased significantly. In the past five months, it has been greater than what weve seen in the past," said the pilot, who could not be identified for security reasons.
"They are shooting much more frequently," he said of the Iraqi air defenders.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the troops mission, known as Operation Northern Watch, is necessary to keep a lid on Iraqs military.
"The risk grows to the extent that other nations assist Iraq in strengthening its military capability, its air-defense capability," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Mr. Rumsfeld gave as an example U.S. assertions that Chinese workers were in Iraq early this year to install fiber-optic links in Iraqs air-defense network.
Mr. Rumsfeld said President Bush plans for now to stick with the Clinton administrations policy of regularly patrolling the skies over Iraq to contain Saddam Husseins forces.
No planes have been lost in the 10 years since the no-fly zone enforcement began in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war, but Iraqi air defenses regularly fire on allied planes with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the administration is still studying the matter of enforcing the no-fly zones.
"We dont have any proposals to alter that at the present time," Mr. Rumsfeld said in an interview with reporters traveling with him from Washington to the Turkish capital.
Turkey was the first stop for Mr. Rumsfeld on a weeklong European tour that is his most extensive overseas trip since taking office.
In the airborne interview, Mr. Rumsfeld said the administration is not considering reducing the 100,000-strong American force in Europe, but is reviewing the way troops there and elsewhere abroad are arrayed.


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