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The following (undated) Newsday piece from the ISM list contains the interesting claim that 'Rules demanded by Turkey, which hosts the pilots and planes at [Incirlik air base], strictly bar U.S. and British fliers from retaliating against anything but the weapon or site that shot at them [in the northern 'no-fly' zone].' Certainly this hasn't been the case in the past (see eg. Washington Post, 30th August 1999 which reported - citing an anonymous 'senior Pentagon official' - that the "payback" for Iraqi "provocations" "usually comes hours later and miles away, and ... may be delivered by different aircraft"). Does anyone know of any evidence to suggest that the rules of engagement in the northern zone have been changed in since August 1999 and, if so, how? Best wishes, Gabriel voices uk ********************************************* WISDOM OF AERIAL 'GAME' WITH HUSSEIN COMES INTO QUESTION / SOME FEAR U.S. PATROLS COULD GIVE IRAQI DEFENDERS LETHAL EDGE Slicing through the sky over northern Iraq in his F-15E fighter jet, Air Force Capt. Wayne Straw never saw just how close he came to being hit by Saddam Hussein's artillery on a recent mission. A fellow pilot spotted the explosive bursts barely 500 feet beneath Straw's Strike Eagle - "uncomfortably close," Straw acknowledged dryly. Hussein's forces play a cat-and-mouse game virtually every time U.S. or British air crews patrol northern Iraq, as part of a mission to keep the Iraqi military from flying there. Iraqis fleck the skies with artillery fire - "popcorn," the pilots call it - then tow their guns away almost before the pilots know what happened. Straw scrambled to get his jet away from the fire, but no retaliatory strike was possible, for the U.S. pilots couldn't spot the artillery piece that menaced him. Rules demanded by Turkey, which hosts the pilots and planes at this air base, strictly bar U.S. and British fliers from retaliating against anything but the weapon or site that shot at them. While the 11-year-old mission called Operation Northern Watch has never lost a plane to Iraqi fire, Straw's close call underscores the continued risk to U.S. pilots. The challenges facing this little-known operation highlight the difficulties that U.S. forces would face in any invasion to topple Hussein. President George W. Bush said last week he had no plans on his desk to invade Iraq. Some U.S. officers, active and retired, have called for an end to, or a scaling-back of, the no- fly zone patrols, saying they risk too much, gain too little and help Iraq hone its defenses against any eventual real U.S. attack. Straw, 35, of Altamonte Springs, Fla., also patrolled the no-fly zone in 1999 and said of the Iraqi gunners, "If anything, they're more accurate" now. "They're getting a lot of practice in what they're trying to do." Northern Watch's home at this air base in southern Turkey, about 570 miles from Iraq's capital, Baghdad, would be essential for launching any invasion of Iraq, say analysts, particularly if Saudi Arabia withholds use of its bases, a possibility that Pentagon officials have included in their planning. Yet Turkish leaders publicly have urged the Bush administration not to make war on Iraq, and commanders say the United States could not count on winning Turkish support. Commanders of the northern Iraq patrols say Hussein is adept at placing anti-aircraft guns and missiles near mosques and playgrounds, hoping to draw U.S. forces into a strike that might kill civilians and play to Arab sympathies. U.S. pilots frequently forgo strikes on approved targets because a town, a farm or a moving car is too close by and could be hit accidentally, said the Northern Watch commander, Brig. Gen. Edward Ellis. "No innocent Iraqi citizen deserves to die because they have a knucklehead leader," Ellis said. In April, Hussein made his biggest shift of missiles to the north in several years, U.S. officials say. U.S. warplanes patrolling a similar no-fly zone in southern Iraq bombed three air defense sites there in the past week after coming under attack by surface-to-air missiles. Hussein has made a standing offer of $14,000 to the man who brings down an American or British flier. Still, Hussein seems to be preserving his limited resources in case of a U.S. attack, withholding his best anti-aircraft equipment, which he keeps closer to Baghdad. To be sure, many military analysts believe an invasion of Iraq would devastate Hussein's anti-aircraft weaponry in less than the five weeks needed during the Persian Gulf War. Hussein's remaining weapons are aging and lack spare parts, due to United Nations sanctions that block military supplies. Yet pilots and commanders at Incirlik voice respect for a man they call a wily foe. They worry about what they call Hussein's "science projects," experiments to push the accuracy and lethality of his limited weaponry. Artillery cannons are kept mobile, towed behind trucks. Iraqis have tried firing air-to-air missiles from the ground, or surface- to-air missiles with their guiding radars turned off. That tactic is meant to evade U.S. missiles that can track the radar beams back to the missile launchers. Those experiments increase the dangers to U.S. fliers in Northern Watch, or any new mission that may come their way. "If it does escalate at all," said Capt. Sean Gustafson, an F-16 pilot, "it could get real ugly, real quick." Patrols of a no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel in Iraq began after the Gulf War ended in 1991, and the southern no-fly zone was added the following year. The two cover about 60 percent of the nation. The northern patrols were designed to monitor Hussein's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and to protect the ethnic Kurds, whose rebellion against Baghdad after the Gulf War was brutally crushed by Hussein. Northern Watch officials would not release the number of sorties, but missions comprising several dozen fighters, tankers, communications planes and other aircraft fly on average 12 times a month, at a cost of $750,000 per mission, Ellis said. More than 1,200 U.S. service personnel run Northern Watch. If Northern Watch gives Hussein's troops practice, it does the same for U.S. forces. On one recent mission, F-15 and F-16 fighter jets going into Iraqi airspace refueled from KC-135R tankers over eastern Turkey. The crews danced their aerial ballet of multiton machines at 400 mph, flying in tandem just 50 feet apart, but said the repetition could make it feel routine. "There's always a risk, but this runs smoother than the day-to- day stuff back home when we do practice missions," said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Rose, 32, of Riverside, Calif., a boom operator on the tanker, nicknamed Sweet Sixteen. After more steady and serious attacks on patrolling aircraft in 1999 and 2000, Iraq appears content these days to harass Northern Watch crews with anti-aircraft fire. Ellis said pilots are fired upon an average of once an hour while on patrol, yet Northern Watch has reported just four strikes against Iraqi installations so far this year, compared with four dozen reported in 2000, a decline also attributable to Turkey's tight restrictions on attacks. A Turkish diplomat in Washington said, on condition of anonymity, that if strikes by Northern Watch "went beyond self- defense and initiated bombing from Turkish territory, that will cause trouble for Turkey." "We have our red lines, and we believe U.S. authorities share the same with us," the diplomat said. The Northern Watch mission has grown complicated in other ways. For one thing, the no-fly zone is no longer airtight. Two commercial flights, from Baghdad to Mosul, and several international flights enter the zone regularly. The Iraqis even flew a crop-dusting helicopter over northern Iraq last year without incident. The head of the military's European Command, Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, recommended last May that routine patrols be scrapped in favor of a standing alert on the ground, to reduce the risk to U.S. pilots. Beyond the immediate risks, one retired top Air Force general, Richard Hawley, the former head of the Air Combat Command, shares the pilots' concerns that the no-fly patrols are giving Hussein's forces a dangerous leg up for whatever might lie ahead. "We're providing for them a great adversary force, so they can make sure they're on a sharper edge, their procedures are well- honed, their people are well-trained," Hawley said. "If we had to do something against Iraq), my view is...that we are doing things that will make them a more credible air defense system on day one of that fight than they otherwise might be, and I don't think the political gains adequately offset the price we might pay if we have to go back into Iraq." Newsday Photo / Craig Gordon - 1) Tech Sgt. Matthew Rose, 32, of Riverside, Calif., operates refueling boom on mission over Turkey. 2) An F-15 fighter jet takes on fuel during mid-air refueling operation over eastern Turkey. Copyright © 2002 Newsday Inc. 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