- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

The Pentagon has ordered expanded retaliatory attacks on air-defense targets in Iraq in response to threats to patrolling U.S. and British warplanes, senior officials said yesterday.

Bombing raids against Iraqi air-defense sites and related targets have increased in intensity in recent weeks and appear to be preparation for military action against Saddam Hussein.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said tactics have been altered in recent months to expand retaliatory attacks on more targets.

The strategy is a shift from limiting strikes to Iraqi air-defense systems that illuminate by radar or fire upon patrolling U.S. and British aircraft.

Under the new rules, warplanes have begun attacking "radars and the buildings that have the command nodes in them and the airfields [and] more of the targets like communications buildings that are not easily moved," Gen. Pace told reporters at the Pentagon.

"The recent strikes have degraded the air-defense capabilities," Gen. Pace said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who spoke to reporters with Gen. Pace, said, however, that it was not clear whether the stepped-up counterattacks weakened Iraq's air defenses.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the Iraqis "are constantly trying to improve [air defenses]."

"They have been putting in fiber optic, and they have been doing a whole series of things developing queuing techniques," he said. "And I am not in a position to know if they have been net degraded."

Mr. Rumsfeld said he does not know whether Chinese state-run companies are continuing to help Iraq build fiber-optic communications networks linking up air defenses around the country.

Asked whether China still is supporting the upgrading of Iraqi air defenses, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "They sure did for a long time. Whether they are currently in there, I don't know."

Mr. Rumsfeld also said the Bush administration in the next few weeks will be making its case to Congress on the threat from Iraq.

"The goal will be to try to take the pieces and help people understand that it isn't simple, that there isn't a single smoking gun that everyone nods and says, 'Aha. That's it,'" Mr. Rumsfeld said.

"If we wait for a smoking gun in this instance, it obviously would be after the fact. You'd find it after the fact. You'd find it after lethal weapons were used against the United States, our friends and allies. And that's a little late when you're dealing with capabilities of the lethality that represent these capabilities."

Gen. Pace said commanders in charge of enforcing the air-exclusion zones over northern and southern Iraq have expanded counterattacks beyond specific radar involved in electronically illuminating and firing missiles at aircraft.

The Iraqi military in the past moved missile batteries and radar that confronted patrolling warplanes before the U.S. and British jets were able to counterattack them.

Under the new rules, military planners are "picking targets that are still part of that continuum of air defense" and targets that "provide appropriate level of response to that kind of provocation."

Asked whether the expanded strikes were laying the groundwork for future attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "Well, it can't hurt."

Noting that President Bush has not made a decision on attacking Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "There's no question but that to the extent they keep shooting at our airplanes, and to the extent we keep engaging in response options, and to the extent that those response options are harmful to their air defense, which they are, that that's good."

The defense secretary said he ordered the expanded retaliatory raids within the past six months "because it seemed right at the time."

"I don't like the idea of our planes being shot at," he said. "We're there implementing U.N. resolutions. It's not just the United States. It's the British, the coalition forces involved. And the idea that our planes go out and get shot at with impunity bothers me."

Iraq's government has offered bonuses to Iraqi anti-aircraft-missile units that shoot down patrolling U.S. or British warplanes.

The air-patrol operations have been under way since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war and are authorized under U.N. resolutions.

U.S. officials have said the limited response to hostile Iraqi ground forces either radar illuminations or missile and gun firings were designed in part to avoid upsetting the governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which provide the bases used by the patrolling warplanes.

Limited retaliation, Mr. Rumsfeld said, was "only marginally effective, both in the north and the south."

"And we were flying patterns that were getting us shot at," he said. "And our responses being what they were, at some point we decided, after a good deal of talk, General Pace, General Myers, others in the National Security Council, that it really did not make an awful lot of sense to be flying patterns that we were being shot at if in response, we were not doing any real damage that would make it worth putting pilots at risk. So we modified some of our flights to that they were then flying in areas that were less likely to put them at risk and more in keeping with the value of what we were achieving by doing it."

Mr. Rumsfeld said Iraq's air-defense capabilities improved as the fiber-optic cable linked components of the air-defense network.

The Iraqis also improved the capability of their air-defense systems to "queue" target data communicate information on patrolling aircraft to various air-defense weapons.

Commanders then decided to pick targets for retaliatory raids that "cause us the least grief in terms of risk to our pilots," Mr. Rumsfeld said, noting that fixed and movable targets now are bombed.

"So we ought not to think of it as a static situation," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

On Sept. 5, U.S. Navy F-18 and Air Force F-16 jets attacked anti-aircraft gun and missile sites in southern Iraq. It was the fourth time in 11 days that targets were struck.

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