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URGENT Iraq Announces Ship Attack; Iraqi Missile Fired Close to U.S. Ship

February 13, 1988

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ An Iraqi jet bomber fired a long-range cruise missile within eight miles of the destroyer Chandler Friday night as the vessel escorted a convoy of four tankers, according to a media pool report.

The Chandler was not the apparent target or the attack and there were no reported injuries.

Iraqi planes occasionally have hit by mistake fishing trawlers and last May 17, struck the frigate USS Starke, killing 37 American sailors.

Iraq said Saturday its warplanes raided a ″very large maritime target″ off Iran’s Gulf coast on Friday night. In Iraqi military terminology, a ″very large maritime target″ usually means a supertanker sailing off Iran’s coast.

The Pentagon media pool report, released in Washington, said an Iraqi jet bomber on Friday night fired a long-range cruise missile within eight miles of the destroyer USS Chandler as it was escorting a convoy of four reflagged Kuwaiti tankers to Kuwait’s oil terminals.

Although the Chandler and its convoy were not the apparent targets of the missile attack, the destroyer fired two flares from its 5-inch guns to warn the Iraqi Badger bomber that it was approaching too close to the U.S. warship, said the pool report, filed by Norman Kempster of the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

The official Iraqi News Agency, quoting a military spokesman, reported Saturday that Iraqi warplanes struck at a ″very large maritime target″ off the Iranian coast, ″scoring an accurate and effective hit″ and returned safely to base.

The agency, monitored in Cyprus, said the attack took place at 9:08 p.m. Friday (1:08 a.m. EST Friday). It gave no other details.

Cmdr. Steve Smith, captain of the Chandler, said he was concerned because Iraqi pilots often fire at radar blips without making sure what their targets really are.

″Having watched the geometry of their attacks for some time, I was concerned that he would be firing his missile while he was heading toward us,″ Smith said over the ship’s public address system after the incident ended.

Later, Smith told a small group of reporters who boarded the ship as part of the Pentagon’s Persian Gulf press pool, that the Iraqi pilot fired two Soviet-made C-601 missiles, a 50-mile range air-launched version of the Styx, which China copied in producing its far better-known Silkworms.

Smith said both missiles passed astern of the Chandler, the last ship in the convoy, but that one of the rockets suddenly changed course and passed along the starboard side of the ship before veering away to the right.

Seconds later it detonated, producing a bright flash on the horizon. There was no immediate indication whether the missile had hit a target or had crashed harmlessly into the sea.

Smith said it was the closest approach of a missile to his ship, which has been on station in the Persian Gulf since Nov. 25. The Chandler, one of four guided missile destroyers originally produced for Iran during the reign of the shah but never delivered, is the flagship of the Navy’s tanker escort squadron, which includes six frigates.

Ensign Brian Josse of Kilua, Hawaii, the officer of the deck when the incident began, said later, ″We’ve seen Iraqi planes come close but never this close.″

Quartermaster 2nd Class Dave Markee of Salem, Ore., who was manning a 50- caliber machine gun on the starboard side of the ship, said, ″We believe we saw the missile separate (from the jet.) We also saw anti-aircraft fire off our stern.″

Smith placed his crew on ″general quarters,″ the Navy’s highest state of alert, after the Badger, which had earlier passed the convoy on a flight south along the gulf from Iraq, turned back north and headed straight for the Chandler.

Smith said he was prepared to try to shoot down the incoming missile if it had appeared to be on a course that would strike any ship in the convoy. He readied the Standard-1, anti-aircraft missile, shoulder-fired Stinger missiles and the automatic-firing Phalanx Gattling gun.

Smith said he informed the Badger by radio that it was approaching a U.S. convoy and ordered it to turn back. He said the Iraqi pilot, who did not speak English very well, did not seem to understand.

Smith said he then warned the Iraqi that he planned to fire two ″illumination rounds″ from the ship’s powerful 5-inch gun.

As soon as the flares went off, he said, the Iraqi jet turned sharply away from the ship and fired both of the C-601 missiles.

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