"The attack was against a radar at a combined military-civilian airfield near the city of Basra," one of the defense officials said. "The radar is used to track (U.S. and British) coalition aircraft."
Officials said the Basra airport radar was not active at the time of the attack but had been used in the past to coordinate Iraqi air defense targeting of U.S. and British aircraft in southern Iraq.
In a brief statement announcing the attack, the U.S. Central Command said only that "coalition" aircraft used precision-guided weapons to strike the radar at 1:30 p.m. EDT and that the damage was being assessed. It also said the attack was "in response to recent Iraqi hostile threats."
The Central Command is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Gulf area.
A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said four U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets attacked the radar site.
The radar was located at Basra's airport, which the Pentagon official said serves both civilian and military aircraft. He said the radar was located a sufficient distance from civilian airport facilities to ensure that civilians were not hit.
Thursday's attack was planned in advance, the Pentagon official said.
Last Saturday, U.S. and British warplanes attacked a mobile radar in southern Iraq, and on Tuesday they hit an Iraqi aircraft command and control facility.
On Monday, the Air Force lost a Predator unmanned reconnaissance plane near Basra. The Iraqis claimed they shot it down; the Pentagon said it was unsure whether it had been hit by hostile fire or had crashed on its own. Whatever the case, it was the first U.S. or British airplane to be lost over Iraq since "no fly" zone patrols began.
U.S. and British aircraft regularly patrol southern and northern Iraq to prevent Iraqi forces from attacking Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south and to provide early warning of Iraqi troop movements toward Kuwait.
According to the Pentagon's count, Iraq has "provoked" allied planes in the south defined as incidents in which it has fired on planes, used radar against them or sent fighters into the "no fly" zone 390 times this year. That compares with 221 "provocations" in all of 2000. Allied planes have struck at Iraqi air defense targets 23 times in the south so far this year, compared with 32 times last year.
In the northern zone, the Pentagon counts 78 Iraqi provocations so far this year, compared with 145 in 2000. The pace of allied strikes has fallen from 48 last year to 10 so far this year.
Iraq considers the U.S.-British patrols of its airspace to be illegal and has vowed to shoot down a U.S. or British plane.
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