Israel: 'We will retaliate' U.S. POUNDS IRAQ, HUNTS MISSILES President lauds 'magnificent' U.S. performance WAR IN THE GULF

January 19, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Allied warplanes continued their massive pounding of Iraq and Kuwait yesterday as Israel and Saudi Arabia braced for possible new attacks by Iraqi missiles.

U.S. fighter jets prowled the skies over Iraq's western reaches, scanning the barren landscape below for more Scud missile launchers of the type used to strike Israeli coastal cities early yesterday.

"We are going to be redoubling our efforts in the darnedest search-and-destroy effort that's ever been undertaken out in that area. And I hope that that is very reassuring to the citizens of Israel," President Bush said at the White House.

Israeli leaders insisted that they would retaliate, but more than 24 hours after the Iraqi missiles landed, there was no sign that a counterattack was imminent.

"The U.S. administration knows that if we are attacked, we will respond," Defense Minister Moshe Arens said. "And we have been attacked."

Mr. Bush, reporting to congressional leaders on the initial progress of Operation Desert Storm, now in its third day, declared that "our forces have performed magnificently."

Another front in the air war opened yesterday with the first raid from Turkey. A flight of 27 planes was reported to have taken off in the early morning, only hours after Turkey's Parliament agreed to having its territory used.

"The flights started as training," President Turgut Ozal said on television. "But they had permission beforehand, and afterward they may have gone somewhere else."

Almost all the activity remained in the air. Except for one minor artillery exchange Thursday, no ground hostilities have been reported.

In Saudi Arabia, senior officers dismissed speculation that a ground attack on Iraqi positions in Kuwait was imminent. They said the attack might still be a week away and would be preceded by a massive and sustained aerial bombardment of the heavily fortified border defenses.

In the Middle East, allied aircraft were taking off from carriers and land bases at the rate of nearly 2,000 missions a day, although heavy cloud cover again forced some fighters to return to base still carrying all their bombs.

The clouds also hindered efforts to use spy satellites in the search for the mobile Scud launchers, reported to number two dozen or more.

Returning pilots reported that Iraqi air defenses continued to put up little resistance, and U.S. casualties remained light.

In all, seven U.S. fliers were listed as missing in action, including at least one presumed dead. The number of downed U.S. jets grew to four. Four other allied planes also have been reported downed.

Iraqi officials in Baghdad said that U.S. airmen had been taken prisoner, but U.S. spokesmen said they knew of no U.S. prisoners of war.

Despite earlier reports that allied forces were in control of the skies over Iraq -- one of the initial objectives of the operation -- senior U.S. officials said the allies had not yet achieved complete air superiority.

"Unfortunately, a lot of their aircraft are in hardened shelters. We attack the shelters, and we don't know the results on the aircraft," Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner told reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The briefing, the first by U.S. commanders in the region since the war began, was carried live by the four major U.S. television networks yesterday morning.

General Horner said that when Iraqi aircraft challenge attacking aircraft, allied jets "tend to shoot them down if they persist in the engage

ment." Frequently, he added, the Iraqi jets "break off" and "flee to the north," out of range.

Congressional sources disclosed, and the Pentagon later confirmed, that only about 11 of Iraq's approximately 700 military aircraft had been destroyed, eight in the air and three on the ground.

Earlier statements, including one by a senior officer of the French military, one of five allied air forces taking part in the air campaign, had suggested that at least 50 percent of Iraq's aircraft had been destroyed.

Pentagon officials pointed out that runways at many Iraqi airfields had been damaged, making takeoffs impossible. And Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams added that eliminating Iraq's air force had never been an early combat objective.

U.S. officials provided virtually no details on the progress of the fighting, as perhaps the heaviest air campaign in history remained cloaked in secrecy. Officials refused to discuss attacks on specific targets or even to disclose such basic information as the number of targets hit and the extent of damage to Iraq's armed forces and military installations.

Senior military officials defended their tight-lipped secrecy by explaining that the destruction of Iraq's command and communications facilities had been an early goal of the operation and that they did not want to make public military details that Iraqi leaders may be unaware of.

"We assume that Mr. Hussein has some idea of the damage done to him. We don't know how much because we don't know what his communications capability is at this time," Army Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Kelly said at a Pentagon briefing.

Pentagon officials said U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf now total more than 450,000, an increase of at least 25,000 in the past week.

In Washington, Mr. Bush signed an order authorizing the Pentagon to activate up to 1 million additional reservists, if necessary. The executive order also extended for up to two years the active-duty status of reservists involved in the gulf call-up.

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney has said that he has no plans to use the extra 1 million call-up authority and that the order was primarily designed to extend the active-duty status of specialized reservists, such as Arabic speakers and water purification experts.

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