U.S. aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq have dropped well over 100 bombs in the last month alone. It happened again Sunday, just as it has about one out of every three days for the last several months.
U.S. aircraft helping to enforce a no-fly zone over southern Iraq struck an Iraqi missile site after Iraqi gunners opened fire on coalition aircraft, the U.S. military said.
"The strike was in response to Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery fire directed at coalition aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone earlier today," the U.S. command responsible for the region said Sunday.
Iraq said 14 people were killed and 17 injured, but later raised the toll to 17 dead.
American jets taking off from Incirlik air base in Turkey routinely go into a gas-guzzling full-power climb in case a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile is lurking outside the perimeter fence. Then they refill their gas tanks and head over Iraq, getting shot at just as routinely as they shoot back.
In April, an unmanned reconnaissance vehicle spotted an Iraqi missile near the Persian Gulf and watched it take a direct hit, sending debris cascading into the water. For months, crews returning from patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq have been giving their operations commander a quick scorecard on how many targets they hit.
The April hit garnered praise, but also left one commander of ground operations wondering what's being accomplished by either side.
"It's not seriously degrading his military capability," said Col. Bill Gormley. "It's certainly not degrading ours. It just goes on."
The point, according to an F-16 pilot, is to convince Saddam Hussein to stop threatening American aircraft.
At the time the missle near the Persian Gulf was hit, Lt. Col. Charlie Lyon said "We eventually hope he'll get the message that he's going to keep taking a pounding as long as he chooses to act in this aggressive manner."
If anything, the pounding has increased since then, without any sign Hussein is backing down. American pilots can win the daily battle against Iraqi air defenses, but to attain the U.S. objective they have to do more than outshoot the opponent - they have to outlast him.