WASHINGTON – Iraqi aircraft shot down a U.S. unmanned surveillance drone over southern Iraq on Monday, American military officials said.
The Predator drone was conducting a reconnaissance mission, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers told a Pentagon news conference. The plane is presumed a total loss, he said.
"They got a lucky shot today, and they brought down the predator," Myers said.
Iraqi fighter aircraft penetrated the southern no-fly zone over the country and fired on the Predator, and its controllers then lost contact with the $3.7 million plane, U.S. officials said.
"This action is the latest chapter in a lengthy list of hostile acts by the Iraqi regime," said Jim Wilkinson, a Central Command spokesman. Central Command is the U.S. military command that oversees operations in Iraq and the surrounding countries.
Iraqi air defenses have fired on U.S. and British warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq almost 500 times in 2002, officials said. American and British aircraft have come under attack on 32 days since Nov. 8, when the United Nations' Security Council agreed on a new weapons' inspection regime for Iraq.
The no-fly zones were set up after the 1991 Gulf War to prevent Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from using his military aircraft over northern and southern Iraq. His fighters sometimes cross into those zones and are pursued by American or British warplanes.
Most of his attacks on U.S. and British aircraft, however, come from surface-to-air missile sites on the ground, rather than from his air force. Iraq's fleet of about 300 fighter aircraft is short on spare parts and its pilots receive little training, defense officials said.
Predator reconnaissance drones are flying over the country looking for signs of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction programs.