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Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Bush to counter Iraq 'menace'
U2 spy plane
U2 spy plane was 'close to' being shot down
President George W Bush says the United States will continue putting pressure on Iraq after the Iraqi military nearly hit a high-altitude American U-2 spy plane with a missile this week.

There is no question that Saddam Hussein is still a menace and a problem, and the US and our allies must put the pressure on him

President Bush
"The no-fly zone is still in place. Plus, I'm analysing the data from the incident," Mr Bush told reporters.

"There is no question that Saddam Hussein is still a menace and a problem. And the United States and our allies must put the pressure on him," he added.

The spy plane incident happened on Tuesday, according to Pentagon officials, who fear that the Iraqis may have improved their ability to strike at unarmed reconnaissance planes.

The plane was close enough to observe the Iraqi missile as it flew a reconnaissance mission, a Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Danger growing

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has been warning for some time now that American and British pilots face an increased danger from Iraqi defences.

Map of no-fly zone
The unarmed U2 spy planes soar through the skies at over 21, 000 metres (70,000 feet) - well out of range of most surface-to-air missile systems.

But, says the BBC's correspondent in Washington, Nick Bryant, officials at the Pentagon now believe the Iraqis have improved their defences, adding extra fuel to their Russian-made missiles to increase their range.

Shock waves

The American pilot was patrolling the no-fly zone in southern Iraq when he saw the missile streaking towards him.

It exploded below and behind him, sending shock waves through the plane but failing to damage it.

Saddam Hussein has long sought to bring down a Western aircraft, and this latest incident could mark a significant shift in tactics, with his forces taking aim at slow-moving reconnaissance planes rather than fast-moving jets.

Already this year, US and British war planes have launched bombing raids on Iraqi missile sites, and further incidents like this one could easily prompt further action from Washington.

See also:

26 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iraq 'nearly downs' US spy plane
17 Feb 01 | Middle East
Iraq defiant over missile attack
03 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iraq escapes 'smart sanctions'
02 Jul 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Iraq wins sanctions battle
29 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iraq outburst over UN sanctions
27 Jun 01 | Middle East
UN deadlock over Iraq sanctions
27 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell's new plans for Iraq
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