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Missiles fell on Saudi, US suspends routes

About five ship-fired US Tomahawk cruise missiles aimed at Iraq have fallen in Saudi Arabia, forcing planners to suspend certain routes for launches.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2003 03:15 IST

About five ship-fired US Tomahawk cruise missiles aimed at Iraq have fallen in Saudi Arabia, forcing planners to suspend certain routes for launches, US officials said on Saturday.

"In the case of Saudi Arabia, we did have a number of T-LAM (Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles) missiles that were reported down in their territory," Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart said at war headquarters in Qatar.

"We continue to use Tomahawk cruise missiles throughout the theatre. We have coordinated with the Saudis to hold on a couple of routes that might put them in a position where they could be close to any civilian population," he told a news conference.

A US defence official, speaking in Washington on condition of anonymity, said there were "about five" Tomahawk missiles that landed in the Saudi desert without exploding.

It is believed that three Tomahawk missiles have also landed without exploding in Turkey during the war. In Silopi, Turkey, Turkish villagers on Saturday showered US soldiers with eggs and stones when they arrived to recover pieces of a Tomahawk that came down in eastern Turkey a day earlier.

Saudi Arabia's official SPA news agency quoted an unnamed high-ranking Saudi defence official as saying that the kingdom had submitted an official complaint to the United States regarding the incident.

The official also reiterated Saudi Arabia's position that it would not participate in the war with Iraq in any way, SPA said.

Renuart said the problem occurred shortly after the launch phase of the missiles, before they begin their cruise flight toward Iraq.

"Basically we have a situation where the Saudis have said, 'Can you see if we can figure out what has caused this?'" Renuart said. "And so we have agreed with them to conduct a review of those launch procedures."

In Washington, the defence official expressed confidence US forces at some point would regain the ability to fire missiles across Saudi territory along the routes that have been suspended, but he did not say when that would happen.

Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for Operations for the US military's Joint Staff, told a Pentagon briefing that the suspension of Tomahawk overflights over Saudi territory "really won't have a big effect" on the war effort.

Tomahawk cruise missiles are fired by ships and submarines at land targets. The Pentagon said US forces have fired more than 675 Tomahawks during the war.

"One of the things that I'd stress, like many other of our precision munitions, when a Tomahawk is launched, the warhead itself is not active until close to the target," McChrystal said. "So when these missiles ground themselves, essentially they bury themselves in the ground or break up. They don't explode. The warhead doesn't explode."

First Published: Mar 30, 2003 03:15 IST