KUWAIT CITY — Kuwaiti warplanes sank an Iraqi gunboat, and coast guard units captured 46 disguised Iraqi soldiers who landed on Bubiyan Island to scavenge abandoned ammunition, Western security officials said Thursday.
The clash erupted Wednesday afternoon when Kuwaiti coastal forces intercepted five fishing boats loaded with ammunition as they started to leave the island, the officials said.
The infiltration of the Persian Gulf island, which Baghdad has long sought because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab waterway, was the most serious infraction since the U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi troops from the emirate in February, Kuwaiti officials said.
In Baghdad, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry official denied that Iraqi soldiers were on the island, the official Iraqi News Agency said. The official, who was not identified, suggested that the men might have been arms smugglers, according to the agency.
Security officials said Iraqi soldiers dressed as civilians had landed on Bubiyan and loaded ammunition onto five fishing boats. The Iraqis were spotted by Kuwaiti forces as they started to sail away about 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Kuwaiti troops opened fire on the fishing boats, and four Iraqi gunboats rushed to rescue the boats, the sources said.
At least two Kuwaiti Skyhawk jets attacked the Iraqi gunboats, sinking one. Three other boats were captured, along with 46 "soldiers in civilian guise," according to one official.