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Unmanned U.S. Plane Shot Down Over Iraq

Aired December 23, 2002 - 10:40   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting some breaking news out of the Pentagon this morning, word of some activity in Iraq. Let's go to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon.
Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, sources confirm they have every reason to believe a U.S. Predator, unmanned aerial drone, was shot down over southern Iraq earlier today. Officials are saying that this unmanned drone, which was performing reconnaissance missions over southern Iraq, disappeared from the air about 7:30 Eastern Standard Time this morning, while on a mission over southern Iraq. Several officials are now telling us, though they cannot confirm the details, they have every reason to believe, they tell us, that this was due to hostile fire by the Iraqis.

The detail that we don't know yet is exactly how this transpired. It would either have been, of course, shot down by Iraqi aircraft fire, anti-aircraft artillery, or possibly surface-to-air missiles.

We are told that as far as the U.S. Central Command can determine at this time, there were no Iraqi MiG aircraft, aircraft at all in the southern no-fly zone earlier today while this unmanned drone was performing its mission. They are trying to go and determine exactly what happened.

Now, what we should tell you is, for the last several weeks, the U.S. has been very aware that the Iraqis have been stepping up their efforts to try and shoot down one of these unmanned drones, trying their MiG or Mirage aircraft several times into the no-fly zone, trying to target one of these drones. The Iraqis had a lot of problem doing that with their aircraft, because frankly, they can't slow their aircraft down enough, fly them slow enough to catch one of these drones, which are very slow-flying unmanned aircraft.

But by all accounts, somehow they did succeed earlier today. Again, several U.S. military officials telling us that they now believe that this predator was lost over southern Iraq due to hostile, they say hostile Iraqi fire -- Leon.

HARRIS: Barbara, are the coalition forces using exclusively now these unmanned aircraft to patrol that no-fly zone?

STARR: No. U.S. and coalition aircraft do patrol -- manned aircraft, of course, patrol the no-fly zone regularly. But the Predator has some particularly unique value. As we said, it's slow. It can take a good look, and if they believe there is going to be hostile-fire activity in a region, a lot better, of course, to fly an unmanned drone in to this hostility than risk losing a coalition pilot. So they've been using them for some time. This is apparently the first time the Iraqis got lucky.

HARRIS: Let me ask you this, also. This is not the first time we've lost drones in that area. Is it the first time one has been shot down? Is there a policy or procedure about that? Do they go after the Iraqi jet, even if it does leave the no-fly zone, or what?

STARR: Well, if they can determine what exactly happened, of course, the U.S. policy is to retaliate against any violation of the no-fly zones or any violation of the U.N. resolutions. That's what these airstrikes have been all about, of course.

But they're going to take a very hard look and try and figure out exactly what happened here. As I said, right now, we are being told it was hostile fire, but we're not being told exactly how it happened. We should say, indeed, some Predators have been lost in the past, both in southern Iraq and, of course, in Afghanistan, deemed unmanned drones. They are flown remotely, of course, and sometimes they do run into technical problems with their controls.

We're not aware that the -- and the Iraqis have made claims in the past about shooting down Predators, of course. But this is the first time U.S. military officials have said, yes, indeed, they believe indeed it was hostile fire.

HARRIS: Finally, I understand these drones, they may be unmanned, but not necessarily unarmed. Do we know whether or not this was one of those that may have been armed?

STARR: We do not know that, Leon. That's a very interesting question. Some of these Predators are now carrying Hellfire missiles, other types of weapons, particularly to go after targets in these so- called hot zones. In other words, if they think they're going into an area where there may be missile, artillery or aircraft fire, they don't necessarily want to send in a pilot and risk someone's life. So they do send in these armed drones. They have been using them over southern Iraq.

At this point we do not know, in all candor, whether this Predator was armed or not.

HARRIS: Got you. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thanks, Barbara. Appreciate it.

STARR: Sure.


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