Saturday, March 08, 2003

So Sorry, So Very Very Sorry

No surprise that amazingly incompetent handling of the downed spy plane incident with China (Oh God, imagine the response of the SCLM if Clinton had gotten down on his news and begged forgiveness from the 'Chi-Coms') is coming back to bite us in the ass in a major way.

The new details of the incident emerged during a day in which North Korea declared a three-day maritime exclusion zone in the Sea of Japan, signaling its intention to test fire a missile. Pentagon officials said it was virtually the same area in which North Korea tested an anti-ship missile on February 25.

Details about the intercept, which came to light after military officials interviewed the flight crew, suggest that the more than 15 Americans aboard faced greater peril than was previously known. Ignoring a fighter pilot's order to land, even in international airspace, could have led to the plane's downing, military officials said today.

"Clearly, it appears their intention was to divert the aircraft to North Korea, and take it hostage," the official said.

The disclosure of what appeared to have been a plan to force down the aircraft came during a broad-ranging interview about the North Korean nuclear crisis with the senior Defense Department official.

In April 2001, a United States Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter that was closely tailing it. The plane, an American EP-3E, was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island in China. The 24-member crew was detained for 11 days.

Pentagon officials have acknowledged they were caught off guard by the intercept on Saturday night Sunday morning in Korea and did not scramble American fighters during the 22 minutes the North Korean jets tailed the four-engine Air Force reconnaissance plane. North Korea's air force is so strapped for fuel and spare parts, its pilots fly only about 13 hours of training missions a year, and rarely stray from their home skies.

Despite the growing tensions over North Korea's push to build a nuclear arsenal, there has not been a serious aerial confrontation between the two countries since North Korea shot down an unarmed American EC-121 reconnaissance plane in 1969, killing 31 American airmen.

For these reasons, Pentagon officials say there is little doubt that the North Korean mission was a well-planned operation that used its top pilots flying two MIG-29's and two MIG-23's.

Political Strikes said it best a couple of days ago.