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U.S. Predator strikes again in Iraq

From Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau

A Hellfire missile is attached to a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.
A Hellfire missile is attached to a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models
Type: Air-ground anti-tank missile
Length: 5 feet 4 inches
Diameter: 7 inches
Wingspan: 28 inches
Weight: 98 to 107 pounds
Speed: Subsonic
Guidance: Laser or radar
Launched from: Navy Seahawk, Army Apache and Marine Super Cobra helicopters, and Predator unmanned aerial vehcles (drones)

Sources: U.S. Navy, Jane's

TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- For the second time in a week, a U.S. Air Force Predator unmanned aerial vehicle helped destroy an Iraqi mobile radar unit, according to a Pentagon official.

The Predator fired a Hellfire missile at the radar unit Monday after Iraqi forces moved the system -- which the Iraqi military uses to control surface-to-air missiles -- below the 32nd parallel, the northern boundary of the southern no-fly zone.

The strike occurred about 3:40 p.m. EST, about 75 miles south of Baghdad near Diwaniyah.

On Friday, another unmanned U.S. plane fired a Hellfire missile to destroy a similar mobile communications van. (Full story)

The strikes demonstrate how the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, once employed only for surveillance, is being used more as an offensive weapon, equipped with air-to-ground and sometimes air-to-air missiles, sources said.

Iraq shot down a U.S. Predator in the southern no-fly zone on December 23. (Full story)

Also Monday, U.S. and British aircraft hit Iraqi military air defense communications facilities after Iraqi forces flew military aircraft into the southern no-fly zone earlier in the day, a Pentagon official said.

"Several air assets from both countries were used in this strike," the official said.

Typically, U.S. Air Force F-15s, F-16s, Navy F-18s and British Jaguars are used in coalition airstrikes and patrols over the no-fly zones in Iraq.

The Iraqi plane left the area without incident, and the coalition forces struck their targets with precision-guided munitions about 2:30 p.m. EST in the same area as the Predator strike.

U.S. Central Command in Tampa announced Monday's two strikes in a statement.

The no-fly zones, designed to protect Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiites in the southern part of the country from the Iraqi regime, have been a bone of contention between the U.S.-British coalition and Iraq since they were established after the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Iraqi officials insist that the zones violate the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and they refuse to recognize them.

U.S. officials have cited U.N. Resolution 1441 -- the latest disarmament resolution -- to back up the no-fly zones and coalition response to hostile activity from the Iraqis.

Monday's strike brought to 60 the number of coalition strike days in 2002 in southern Iraq. In the north, coalition aircraft patrolling the northern no-fly zone ended 2002 with 18 strike days, the Pentagon said.

Iraq provocations of U.N. mandates below the southern no-fly zone totaled over 500 for the year while provocations in the north were less, totaling over 200 for 2002, the Pentagon said.

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