Spirits soar as pilots tell tales of personal bravodo, fleeing Iraqi jet fighters WAR IN THE GULF REPORTS FROM THE GULF

January 19, 1991|By Frank Bruni | Frank Bruni,The Detroit Free Press

SAUDI ARABIA — SAUDI ARABIA, -- Slowly, as if in slow motion, the AT&T building just south of the Tigris River in Baghdad came into view of the stealth fighter pilot, taking his sleek black plane into the city under the cover of night.

He trained his sights on the microwave towers and antennae atop the roughly 12-story structure as he zeroed in on it. Then he let go a 2,000-pound, laser-guided bomb.

Poof -- the building disappeared in a thick cloud of black smoke as loarge chunks of debris shot hunddreds of yards in each direction.

That was it, the first strike, the bold stroke with which Operation Desert Storm came about Thursday.

A pilot's eye view of it - and of several other strikes that followed as a squadron of stealth fighters claimed the skies above the Iraqi capital -- was made available to a group of seven pool media membe4s late Thursday at the air base out of which two squadrons of stealth fighters are flying their sorties.

In unleashing their bombs, pilots zeroed in on-particular rooms whithin buildings or particular towers atop buildings and hit their taargets with devasting accuracy.

"You pick precisely which target you want. You can want the men's room or the ladies' room." said Col. Al Whitley, commander of the U.S. Air Force 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, which flies the F-117s, or stealth fighters, in the U.S. air fleet.

Two of the wing's three squadrons are in Saudi Arabia and ran missions early Thursday morning and overnight Thursday into early yesterday morning.

Colonel Whitley said the stealth fighters led the allied forces air raid on strategic structures and locations in Iraq. Their goal, he said, was to destroy communications and operations, hampering the Iraqi military's ability to function.

Colonel Whitley said of the 400 sorties against 100 targets during the first early Thursday morning attack on Iraq, the stealths ran 30 of the sorties against 80 of the targets. He would not say precisly how many stealths flew.

News correspondents are, allowed access to troops, bases or ships in Persian Gulf combat areas only in "pools," groups of reporters and broadcasters under military escort.

Pool reports are sent through military communications to all news organizations represented in the gulf area and undergo military security review.

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