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This statement, made in passing by the Sunday Times defence correspondent Mick Smith, is noteworthy:

Seven American U2 spy planes have passed through RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire this year on their way to Akrotiri in Cyprus or Al-Dhafra in Abu Dhabi, the bases for flights over Iran.

Two observations crowd in:

First, the US is said to have an active fleet of only 35 U-2 planes (nominally headquartered in California). Twenty percent of them, a staggering proportion, were en route this year through England for the Middle East.

Second, Smith’s assertion of fact is apropos of very little in the article. The U-2 information looks to be a salient fact that just needed to see the light of day somehow or other.

The article in which that paragraph is buried requires a closer look. In one sense it mirrors the standard complaints about Iran that one sees in Murdoch papers, except the story is oddly self-deflating.

It focuses on conflicts that the SAS, British special forces, have had with smugglers crossing the Iranian border in the south near Basra. The headline, “SAS raiders enter Iran to kill gunrunners”, seems to be contradicted by the body of the report however (h/t Cernig). It states:

Last week, Bob Ainsworth, the armed forces minister, said the Ministry of Defence was unable to say whether British troops had killed or captured any Iranians in Iraq. The ministry declined to comment, but privately officials insisted British troops never carry out hot pursuit across the border.

Half-way through the article, we would seem to be back to square one. Except that we’re not quite done. Smith rather suddenly shifts the focus away from border firefights:

There have been persistent reports of American special-operations missions inside Iran preparing for a possible attack. But the sources said British troops were solely stopping arms smuggling.

The fighting comes amid an increase in US and British intelligence operations against Iran. Britain’s forces have more than 70 Farsi experts monitoring Iranian communications, and the intelligence is shared with the United States.

Here is where the statement about U-2 flights occurs. Editorially, its inclusion in the story is justifiable (though only barely) as a counter-example of US/UK intelligence sharing.

But note that Smith does not state that the seven U-2 planes have been flying over Iran. He leaves that for the reader to infer, saying only that these are bases “for” flights over Iran. For the U-2 flights over Iraq, as Smith must know, the US doesn’t need the Cypriot and U.A.E. bases. Since 2003 the US has been able to use air fields in Saudia Arabia and Kuwait.

The context of the statement about U-2 planes is important. Smith is portraying the British response to smuggling from Iran as measured, and any conflicts with the Iranian military as straddling the border. Also, these operations are directed simply at blocking the smuggling. (Let’s set aside the question of whether all that is accurate.)

The American special forces, by contrast, are depicted as operating rather deep inside Iran, acting to prepare the ground for a large-scale attack on Iran.

There is a deliberate parallelism with Smith’s treatment of intelligence operations, to which he then turns. The British limit themselves to monitoring signals (presumably from outside Iran). And the US? We’re told it has shipped at least 20% of its U-2 fleet to the region during this year. The implication is clear: The US is regularly violating Iranian air space with U-2 flights, flights that have been stepped up dramatically in recent months by the addition of 7 further U-2 planes.

For several years there have been credible allegations that U-2 planes are spying on Iran, especially after a U-2 crashed in June 2005 at Al-Dhafra air base (U.A.E.).

The United States says the incident occurred as the plane was returning to base after an observation mission over Afghanistan…

Air Force spokesman David Small says U-2 planes are flying daily over Afghanistan and Iraq, in support of American and allied ground forces…

Although the Air Force spokesman did not mention Iran, it's considered certain that the United States is employing the U-2's surveillance capabilities there, as well. Washington suspects Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The Boston Globe added:

The military statement also did not specify the nature of the U-2's classified mission, saying only it was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom…

The U-2 mission will probably remain a mystery. Specialists said yesterday that the plane could have been gathering intelligence for operations in Afghanistan.

It could also have been spying over the eastern border into the mountainous regions of Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding. Another possibility, they said, was Iran, which borders Afghanistan to the west and where the United States suspects a covert nuclear weapons program is underway.

Operation Enduring Freedom ''is not synonymous with Afghanistan," Pike said. ''What they were looking at and what they were flying over could be two very different things."

In fact, the U.A.E. lies more or less directly south of the main areas of nuclear activity in Iran, as well as the porous low-lying border between Iraq and Iran. Afghanistan, however, is on the other side of Iranian air space from the U.A.E.

It’s also possible that the US may be able to fly U-2 missions to Iran out of Georgia and Azerbaijan, alliances the US has cultivated partly for that reason perhaps.

In the last two months, several articles appeared in the corporate media about the continued need for the U-2’s capabilities. Clearly the stories were being orchestrated by the military for purposes of its own.
Jonathan Karl of ABC was surprised to find at long last that he would be allowed to fly on the spy plane.

Meanwhile U.S. News declared that “The legendary U-2 spy planes are busier than ever”. True, but maybe for reasons other than those explored in the bland report.

If in fact the U.S. has now dedicated an additional 20% of its U-2 fleet to overflights of Iran, then we can make better sense of this modest barrage of stories about the normally secretive U-2 program.

It almost goes without saying that to violate Iranian air space could be an act of war; to do so systematically might be intended as a deliberate provocation.

You may recall that one of George Bush’s last acts in the push toward war in Iraq was to demand that Saddam Hussein accept U-2 flights over his country. It was one of the last gasp of the plan to “wrongfoot” Hussein. The Bush administration reacted petulantly when the dictator finally said he was willing to accede to the demand.

Unlike Iraq, however, Iran may have the capability to shoot down a U-2.

crossposed from

Originally posted to smintheus on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 01:47 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  worth stressing (8+ / 0-)

    what I implied in the post: the 20% of the U-2 fleet sent to the Middle East this year was in addition to an unknown number of U-2 planes already in regular use over Iraq, Afghanistan, and probably other southwest Asian countries.

  •  We're they all different planes (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    or could the same planes have made multiple flights thru there.
    Also were any planes noted that were headed back to the U.S.?

    "Clark is the only one I would trust with my son's life"

    by ParaHammer on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 02:15:09 PM PDT

    •  we weren't told any further info (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shirah, eshafto

      Though, as I imply, the fact that the fact is included in the article, when it really doesn't relate closely to the SAS story, suggests that Mick Smith wanted to get it out before the public. You'd think it was not just a regular rotation of aircraft, then.

      Besides, these planes are pretty fragile. They're extremely hard to take off in and land, and they only have a single jet engine. So you wouldn't be shipping them around the globe just to rotate planes back home, I'd guess.

  •  Any reference for Iran being able to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    smintheus, Simplify

    shoot one down? I did a brief search and came up empty.

    I think at this point if they did shoot one down, rather than a public upwelling of outrage we'd see a general sentiment of "Well, what the f*ck was he doing in Iranian airspace?"

    •  Iraq occasionally threatened (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shirah, Simplify, eshafto

      to shoot down U-2 planes with missiles, though to do so it probably  would have to lock on them with radar which they couldn't afford to do (see this from 2001).

      So I have to believe that Iran is fully capable of shooting down a U-2.

      •  This part of that linked article (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        is pretty hard to believe:

        In the latest incident, Pentagon sources said a high-altitude missile -- such as an SA-2 or SA-3 -- came close enough to the slow, high-flying U-2 that the U.S. pilot felt the shock wave from the explosion, which occurred an undetermined distance below the plane.

        The odds of an unguided missile getting that close at that distance are into the absurd range.  They must've been steering it manually without radar, or something.

        Gotta wonder whether Iran has any operative F-14s with Phoenix missiles; highly unlikely since they'd be 30 years old, but that would probably have a chance at a U-2.  Does Iran's air force include any more modern Russian aircraft at this point?  Ground-based missiles are still the likeliest threat, I image.

        Bush did concoct the ridiculous idea of painting a U-2 with giant "UN" letters and trolling over Iraq to get them to shoot at it in 2002, thus giving an "excuse" to invade.  So, anything is possible.

        Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

        by Simplify on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 03:24:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I'd say yes. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shirah, eshafto

      FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 06:44:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good diary (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    smintheus, shirah, Simplify, Dimetrodon

    Thanks for catching this.  Sadly, while the story is highly plausible, it is long on innuendo and short on fact.  

    It claims SAS units are fighting inside Iran, but it can't really source these.  It claims they are fighting Al Quds, but then says it can't say if the "smugglers" killed were Iranian or Iraqi.  It says that Iran is stepping up the supply of weapons to Shiites, without providing any source or evidence of this.

    Likewise, the U-2s were going to "Akrotiri in Cyprus or Al-Dhafra in Abu Dhabi."  Given the "or," we don't really know very much (are some of them spying on Syria and Lebanon?).

    This is a very good find, but we aren't left with much more certainly about anything then we had before.

    •  I disagree (0+ / 0-)

      connect the dots.  Not the disclosures.  Especially not the disclosures from this admin.

      Those who hear not the music-think the dancers mad

      by Eiron on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 02:37:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  you're certainly right about the main parts... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      of Smith's report. I don't see that there's much of anything to trust regarding the alleged border skirmishes, smuggling, or the implied involvement of the Iranian armed forces. Besides the things you point to, this is a story about the SAS, which is extremely shadowy.

      By contrast, though, the statement about U-2 planes going through Gloucestershire is both specific and potentially knowable. A few phone calls might have been able to confirm it. Also, notice that Smith doesn't attribute the information to sources; he states it as a fact.

      •  Agreed but (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shirah, Simplify, kidneystones

        The story about the 7 U2s through Gloustershire seems checkable, but what does it tell you?  As someone else asked, are these individual, or did some pass through more than once?  Are these in addition to others already there?  Did others go to the Middle East by a different route?  Where did they actually go, the article lists two separate destinations.  What was there mission once they got there?

        To be honest, given how much of the US attention is focused in the Middle East right now, 20% of the U@ reconnaissance fleet seems very small.  I would expect a lot more.

        So as I said, this story is a very good find, but I'm not sure where it leaves up.

        •  If the US shifted 20% of its naval vessels (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          shirah, kidneystones

          into the Gulf, in addition to all the ships it already had there at the start of the year, wouldn't that be phenomenal?

          There have been and continue to be significant numbers of U-2 flights over Iraq and Afghanistan. There also appear to flights over Iran dating back several years. While it's possible that all these planes were rotated back to the US as these 7 were heading over, it doesn't seem like the kind of thing you do with U-2 planes.

          Smith's statement doesn't have any obvious relevance that I can see unless he's implying that there's been a major build-up of U-2 planes over Iran.

  •  Olmert Begs Iraninan Jews to Get out now (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Great work, smintheus.

    I came across this horrifying little nugget last night: the National Review Online claims that Israeli President Olmert recently sent a letter to Iran's 20,000 Jews, begging them to 'flee for their lives'.

    I can't read the source document. Is it credible? This report and others, your diary and Dick"s recent sighting and threats, I sense the die has truly been cast.

    The chessboard is going to change before 2008 and I can't say I have much confidence that the current crop of candidates will be able to stop the attack or adjust to the new landscape.

  •  iran can shoot down a U-2 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Irans S-300PMU-2. Twice the size, of the US Partiot missile & reportedly vastly superior (lacking the reputation of shooting down friendly aircarft), the S-300PMU-2 has been a good source of currency for Russia, who was the worlds leader in exported arms sales last year (31 billion).

    Both Iran and Syria have recently been equipped with the very latest version of this missiles, the S-300PMU-2, which is larger, faster and even more efficient at hunting down its prey. The range of this upgraded missile is in excess of 125 miles, with the ability to acquire and kill targets flying as low as 30 feet. The Russians routinely shoot down random target drones travelling at 5,800 feet per second, and further claim the weapon is easily capable of destroying targets approaching at up to 15,500 feet per second, or Mach 14......

    According to a 7 December 2005 "Defense Update" commentary, "when deployed in an integrated network, an array of S-300 and Tor M-1 systems could pose a highly potent defensive network against any aggressor."

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 06:42:14 PM PDT

  •  Predator Drones? (0+ / 0-)

    Why would they use U-2's and not Predator Drones?

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