A Saudi warplane shot down two Iraqi jets Thursday after they entered the kingdom's airspace loaded with bombs, Saudi military officials said. The allies were reportedly continuing their pounding of a strategic Iraqi city.
Also Thursday, a U.S. Air Force pilot was rescued in the gulf after his F-16 was hit by enemy fire over Kuwait, Army Lt. Col. Greg Pepin reported at his Thursday morning briefing in Riyadh.French warplanes, meanwhile, made their first foray into Iraq, attacking positions of the elite Republican Guard near the Iraq-Kuwait border, according to military sources in Paris. Previously, France had said it would only hit targets in occupied Kuwait.
Saudi military officials in Dhahran said a Saudi pilot flying a U.S.-made F-15 shot down two Iraqi Mirage F-1 fighter jets loaded with bombs that entered Saudi airspace.
It was the first report of an Iraqi attempt to enter Saudi airspace since the war with Iraq began a week ago.
"I just rolled in behind them and shot them down," said the pilot, who agreed to be identified only as Capt. Ayedh.
The British, meanwhile, gave a slightly different account of the incident. In a briefing, Group Capt. Naill Irving of the Royal Air Force said crews of the HMS Gloucester and Cardiff detected the approach of three Iraqi jets - two "Floggers" and one Mirage capable of launching Exorcet missiles.
Two of the Iraqi planes were destroyed by a Saudi fighter aircraft, he said. The other discharged the Exocet out of range and fled.
The British captain also said that allied forces captured an Iraqi minesweeper in the northern Persian Gulf - killing three Iraqis and capturing 22.
Pepin said at his briefing that two Iraqi planes turned away from dogfights with U.S. planes. He also described the rescue of the downed airman.
He said a U.S. F-16 was hit by enemy fire over Kuwait on Wednesday, but the pilot managed to take his plane over the Persian Gulf before ejecting and leaving the aircraft to crash into the water. The pilot was picked up by a helicopter and taken to the USS Nicholas, Pepin said.
So far, Pepin said, the Iraqis have lost 18 planes in air-to-air combat, while the allies have lost none. The total number of allied sorties passed 15,000 Thursday, he said. He said the total number of allied troops has climbed over 675,000.
While the war has mostly been fought in the air so far, Pepin said allied ground troops near the Kuwaiti border "continue to receive sporadic artillery fire" and the U.S. Navy attacked Iraqi emplacements on oil platforms in the Persian Gulf and also attacked an Iraqi tanker and a hovercraft.
The tanker was being used to collect intelligence on allied airstrikes, Pepin said, and was disabled in an assault by Navy A-6 aircraft. In the same assault, he said, the A-6 pilots spotted a hovercraft refueling from the tanker and left it "dead in the water and on fire."
U.S. air attacks continue
Pepin said allied aircraft continue to concentrate on Iraqi's command and control centers, Scud missile sites and airfields. Although he did not say how many Scud sites were attacked in the past day, he did say that allies had knocked out three Soviet-made Badger bombers on Iraqi airfields.
Pepin said allied bombing of Iraqi troops is believed to be hurting morale, and that the Iraqi military is having trouble with supplies and food for its army.
Pepin said about 40 Iraqi soldiers had defected so far. "Apparently their living conditions are quite bad," he said.
CBS journalists missing
In other developments, CBS in New York said four of its journalists were reported missing after a Saudi military patrol found their empty car in northern Saudi Arabia Thursday. The four, including correspondent Bob Simon, had not been heard from for three days. CBS said it believed they were with "friendly forces."
The allied air assault had a new weapon in its arsenal - the skies were clearing. Waves of U.S. warplanes took off from Saudi Arabia, and sources in the gulf state of Qatar said Canadian fighters struck targets in Iraq this morning.
Baghdad radio said allied warplanes staged 15 separate attacks by 7 a.m.
Scuds fired at Saudis
Iraq fired Scud-type missiles Wednesday night at the Saudi capital, Riyadh; at the eastern port city of Dhahran, site of a huge air base; and at another site in north-central Saudi Arabia, the U.S. military command said early Thursday.
The U.S. officials said the missiles were either shot down or fell harmlessly into the gulf. Baghdad radio, though, said the Scuds had "rained on the heads of the traitors in Riyadh" and "pounded the imperialist base at Dhahran."
The report that Basra was under bombardment came from Iran's official news agency.
It was the third straight day the Islamic Republic News Agency reported bombardment of Basra, which lies near the Iranian frontier.
Amphibious forces get ready
In an indication of an impending ground war, Pepin said coalition forces in the Arabian Gulf are practicing amphibious assault skills.
"The events began yesterday and include portions of the largest assembled amphibious force since Inchon," Pepin said.
On the high seas, the U.S. Navy attacked Iraqi Navy vessels Wednesday engaged in hostile activity, Pepin said, describing the sinkings of an Iraqi patrol boat, an Iraqi tanker that had been observed collecting intelligence, and a Hovercraft that attempted to hide under an oil platform.
Pepin said the U.S. Army currently is holding 29 enemy prisoners of war, who will eventually be transferred to Saudi facilities now under construction.
So far, 18 of 22 Scud missiles headed toward Saudi Arabia have been knocked out by Patriots, while four were allowed to fall harmlessly in unpopulated areas, Pepin said. Twelve Scuds have been lobbed at Israel, with two causing property damage, at least three deaths and scores of injuries.
To date, there are 475,000 U.S. forces deployed in the Persian Gulf region: 260,000 Army; 75,000 Navy; 90,000 Marines; and 50,000 Air Force, Pepin said.
Elsewhere, two Patriot missiles were fired from an air base in southeastern Turkey Thursday, but authorities destroyed them by remote-control after realizing there was no threat in the area, an official said.