WASHINGTON -- The United States and its allies opened war against Iraq last night in a massive rush of air power, raining bombs and missiles on Baghdad and targets elsewhere with the aim of forcing Saddam Hussein's troops quickly from occupied Kuwait.
"The liberation of Kuwait has begun," President Bush said, in statement read to reporters by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater as news correspondents in Baghdad reported wave after wave of pre-dawn attacks on the Iraqi capital.
Begun with Tomahawk missiles launched from ships, the battle, called Operation Desert Storm, proceeded with hundreds of U.S., British, Saudi and Kuwaiti planes, but no ground forces initially.
Several hours later, a confident chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin L. Powell, said that the offensive had met "no air resistance" and appeared so far "to have gone very, very well."
There were no official accounts of casualties, although eyewitnesses cited extensive damage to structures in Baghdad.
At the United Nations this morning, the United States promised that Baghdad could avoid further punishment by beginning an "unconditional, immediate and complete withdrawal from Kuwait."
U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering made that pledge in a private meeting with members of the U.N. Security Council, according to a text of his statement obtained by the Associated Press.
Addressing the American people by television from the OvaOffice at 9 p.m., Mr. Bush portrayed the conflict as actually having begun Aug. 2, when Iraq overran the oil sheikdom of Kuwait.
"Tonight, the battle has been joined," the president said.
It came less than 19 hours after the deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to quit Kuwait, an anticlimactic end to five months of frantic diplomacy in which the United States lined up its traditional allies, the Soviet Union and much of the Arab world against Iraq's aggression.
The tactical goal was to wreck Iraq's huge military arsenal, including its nuclear weapons potential and chemical weapons facilities, achieving as much strategic damage as possible with air power before introducing ground troops.
As of midnight Tuesday, the United States and its allies were authorized to go to war to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring a complete Iraqi withdrawal and the restoration of Kuwait's legitimate government.
Allied foreign ministers and ambassadors were notified in a hectic series of meetings and phone calls by Secretary of State ** James A. Baker III and his top aides. Before the offensive was launched, Mr. Bush contacted congressional leaders.
In a boost of allied support that had been expected early on in the crisis but was later cast in doubt, Turkey pledged that the allied forces could use its bases to launch attacks into neighboring Iraq, and its prime minister prepared to seek a declaration of war today.
Booming explosions and the staccato drum of anti-aircraft fire could be heard on news broadcasts from Baghdad last night as correspondents reported seeing the city's sky light up with anti-aircraft tracers and a huge fire due west of the city. Iraqi surface-to-air missiles responded.
About six hours after the first attack, Cable New Network reported a second, daylight wave of air attacks at some distance from Baghdad: "We hear bomb blasts at a great distance from out hotel," reported CNN correspondent John Holliman.
All told, more than 1 million troops were assembled in th Persian Gulf on both sides of the conflict, with the United States deploying more than 400,000 of its troops in a multinational force from more than 20 countries.
The Pentagon said that among the first weapons loosed againsIraq were Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from ships. The missiles have a 700-mile range and carry 1,000-pound high-explosive warheads.
The first targets were believed to include Iraqi Scud missile sites, Iraqi command and control facilities and the air force, followed by facilities for weapons of mass destruction.
Lights continued burning in Baghdad for more than a half-hour after the raids began, indicating that U.S. forces had taken Iraq by "complete tactical surprise," according to former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.
At 3:45 a.m. (7:45 p.m. EST) in Baghdad, correspondents reported the heaviest bombardment up to that time, with planes flying directly over the Al-Rashid Hotel in the center of Baghdad.
"It looks like a million fireflies . . . as another wave of anti-aircraft fire goes up in the air," said CNN correspondent John Holliman.
His colleague, Peter Arnett, reported: "Out there somewhere, there's a terrible pounding going on."
Mr. Holliman reported while holding his microphone at thwindow of his hotel, from which explosions and machine-gun fire could be heard.
The Associated Press reported from eastern Saudi Arabia that the first F-15E fighter-bombers took off at 12:50 a.m. (4:50 p.m. EST). The account was attributed to Col. Ray Davies, the base's chief maintenance officer.
"This is history in the making," he said.