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CNN Today

Last Week's Air Strike Receives Mixed Reviews by Pentagon

Aired February 22, 2001 - 2:11 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: More cat and mouse over Iraq's no-fly zone. U.S. military officials say Iraqi gunners fired first today, then a U.S. pilot fired once. The incident in northern Iraq was the first since the allied strike since last Friday over the southern no- fly zone of Iraq, which, apparently, we're learning now, was not very successful. CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre has more for us now from the Pentagon -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, starting with today, Lou, this was one of the routine enforcement procedures the United States has been gauged in for a couple of years now, ever since Iraq began actively shooting at U.S. and British planes patrolling the no-fly zones. This was, on the scale of things, a pretty small incident.

Again, the Pentagon says some surface-to-air missiles were fired at patrolling plans along with anti-aircraft artillery. A targeting radar was turned on. A U.S. Air Force F-16 fired a radar-seeking missile at the radar once it was turned on. So, pretty much standard procedure. The Pentagon is still assessing Friday's strike. In particular, a weapon delivered by the U.S. Navy F-18s flying off the carrier Harry S. Truman. They were firing a weapon know as the J-SAL (ph), or Joint Standoff Weapon, which were fired at great distance, Sometimes 30, 40, even 50 miles away from the target; a weapon designed to be an aerial weapon, filled with cluster munitions. They were targeted against more than 20 radars, as part of the strike last Friday against Iraq.

Here, you see the weapon in the air. It actually glides to the target, which were a series of radars on the ground like this one pictured, delivered -- released by the Pentagon last week of the kind of radars they targeted. But now, it turns out that some of those precision weapons, which are satellite-guided, missed by as much as 100 feet -- missed their aim point. That reduces their effectiveness, although the Pentagon says they are still convinced some of those radars may have been damaged, because this was an area weapon. The Pentagon today did confirm that some of the radars that were targeted on Friday's strike are back in operation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We fired these weapons at a range of dozens of miles from the targets; and on balance, we feel that we had good effectiveness from the raid. Wasn't perfect, but we are, on balance, overall satisfied with it.

QUESTION: Just following up on your point, though -- the fact that you're using area munitions and you could have had an impact. Do you have any evidence that -- in these other radar sites, aside from the two that have come back up and are operating again, that these strikes did any significant damage in these cases where some of the weapons did not hit their aim point?

QUIGLEY: Our assessment of battle damage is not yet complete. It may take days or even weeks for that to be complete. It comes in, via a variety of means, Jamie. And we never quite close the door on some tidbit of information that would become available to us somewhere downstream that would add to our knowledge of how the weapons perform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: Just to review, Lou, there were more targets than just radars. There were also command and control nodes that apparently were hit pretty effectively using other standoff weapons that were delivered by Air Force and Navy planes. Those apparently worked OK. It's this one weapon system they're looking at why it seemed to go a little bit off course in sort of a constant variation. And the Pentagon is looking at whether there might have been a software glitch; whether they might have been mis-programmed; whether there might have been some interference from the global positioning receiver; or some malfunction of the weapon that caused them to go off course.

But they say, you know, they only went off course by a little bit. They still think they did a lot of damage; they're still calling this overall operation a success. And they say that Iraq is only able to get two of the radars up and running again, following -- a week after the strike.

WATERS: Would you say, Jamie, because of -- because of the imperatives surrounded by this attack -- we were told by the Pentagon, that the Iraqis were able to, with increasing frequency and sophistication, able to launch attacks on allied forces; that was the reason behind the attack. Since it wasn't a complete success, can we expect more of the same?

MCINTYRE: Well, right now, the Pentagon is not indicating whether it will go back and restrike any of these targets. They say the most critical point of the -- what was going on, was the communications links, the fiber optic links, that were being set up to link all the radars together and then relay the information to Iraqi gunners down in the southern no-fly zone. That part of the raid, they believe was pretty successful: knocking out some of the communications centers that link these radars together.

The radars themselves, while important, were sort of the secondary part of the target. So they're still insisting that they believe they have accomplished what they set out to do, which was reduce the risk to pilots in the southern no-fly zone, and if the Pentagon does decide later on that these radars are again threatening those pilots, they will obviously consider restriking at that point. WATERS: All right, we may learn some more, too, Jamie, in a few minutes when President Bush steps into the briefing room in the West Wing to answer questions in his first news conference as president before White House reporters.

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