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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Predator Drone Destroyed Iraqi Communications Van

Aired December 30, 2002 - 17:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news out of the Pentagon. CNN's Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre is here with that -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, we've learned that just four days after Iraqi migs shot down a U.S. Predator spy drone over southern Iraq, one of those Predators fired back with a strike on Friday which took out a communications van that was being used to control a mobile surface-to-air missile system. This Predator drone, armed with Hellfire missiles, was part of an offensive strike.

Now, the Pentagon did announce that strike on Friday but never mentioned the fact that a Predator was involved. Here we see one of those Predators being loaded with a Hellfire missile during an exercise at Nellis Air Force Base. You can see that missile being fitted under the wing of the Predator, has made the Predator from what was just a surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft into a lethal offensive weapon.

Again, the announcement on Friday didn't mention that it was a Predator that took part in the attack but we've learned today from sources that that communications van was hit by a Hellfire missile from the Predator and taken out, again, just four days after the Iraqis shot down one of the planes.

O'BRIEN: Jamie, do we know who was controlling the Predator at that time? I know the Central Intelligence Agency flies Hellfires remotely. Was it in this case the military?

MCINTYRE: This was a U.S. Air Force Predator that was involved in this strike. These are military spy drones that are being flown over the southern no-fly zone and I'm not sure we can just call them spy drones anymore because they're armed and dangerous.

O'BRIEN: And do you have any sense, Jamie, I'm really putting you on the spot here as to the proportion of unmanned missions that are underway now over the northern and southern no-fly zones. Obviously they're mixing them up with the manned missions.

MCINTYRE: Well, I could tell you that I can't tell you because it's classified but the real reason I can't tell you is I don't really know the mix of flights. It is classified. They do try to mix it up and not reveal too much of how many times they're sending these unmanned planes but they're using them more and more. In fact, as the U.S. is gearing up for a potential war with Iraq, one of the units that got a deployment order for next month is a unit of Predators that's going to be coming from the West Coast.

O'BRIEN: So clearly this seems to be the wave of the future?

MCINTYRE: It is and, in fact, some of the Predators have also, we've been told from sources, been armed with Stinger missiles in an air-to-air role, so those Iraqi jets if they try to challenge the planes may be thinking that they don't have anything to worry about because it's an unmanned plane. They may have to worry about a Stinger missile heading their way.

O'BRIEN: So there's the possibility that it has the capability to carry both air-to-ground and air-to-air type missiles, because it can't carry that much, can it?

MCINTYRE: No, it can't carry a lot. It can carry about two, one or two, but the problem is the Iraqi pilots won't know if the missile underneath the wing of the Predator is a air-to-ground Hellfire missile or an air-to-air Stinger missile.

O'BRIEN: Very interesting, CNN's Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon thank you very much, seldom that he is at a loss for words when I ask him a question. I appreciate it, thank you; time now for a news alert.

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