For the second time in three days, a U.S. F-16 pilot fired a missile at an Iraqi antiaircraft site, the Pentagon said Monday.
The latest incident occurred at 2 a.m. MST about 25 miles from where the earlier firing took place.In a brief statement, the Pentagon said, "The pilot received an indication that his aircraft was being targeted by an Iraqi mobile surface-to-air missile system."
The Pentagon said the pilot, assigned to the 4404th Wing participating in patrol of the southern Iraq "no-fly" zone, returned safely to his base.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said President Clinton was briefed on the incident and analysts were trying to "determine why we've had a second incident."
A Pentagon review of the missile firing on Saturday found that there apparently was no attempt to target the plane.
The pilot's cockpit instruments had indicated he was being targeted Saturday by Iraqi radar, and under the rules of engagement he was allowed to respond to what he perceived as a hostile act, the Pentagon said.
"Subsequent analysis did not support the initial indications of radar activity," the Pentagon said in a statement Sunday. It did not say what damage was done by the missile, noting that it was still being assessed.
A Pentagon military source, asked how the confusion occurred, said the pilot did hear an auditory signal indicating the F-16 had been locked onto, but apparently it was a false reading, later analysis showed. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Pentagon's admission calmed concerns that a new outbreak of hostilities was possible as the U.S. elections approached.
Iraq denied that any incident took place. Its official news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying, "Fabricating this false report is part of American-style electioneering" - a reference to the U.S. presidential elections on Tuesday.
The F-16 returned safely to base in Saudi Arabia after the incident at about 12:30 p.m. local time Saturday (2:30 a.m. MST) near the 32nd parallel southeast of Kut Al Hayy, in the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, the Pentagon said.