DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA -- An urgent search-and-destroy mission got under way yesterday to eliminate the Iraqi missile threat against Israel and U.S.-led military forces here, a daunting task that the top U.S. commander compared to hunting for "a needle in a haystack."
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander in chief of U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf, announced that the mission yielded direct hits that knocked out six mobile missile launchers armed with modified Soviet-made Scud-B medium-range ballistic missiles. Three of those were aimed at Saudi Arabia, he said.
Although U.S. warplanes spotted five more launchers in the western Iraqi desert, they were not immediately successful in destroying them, he told reporters from his command headquarters in Riyadh.
"We are continuing to attack the others, and I assure you we will attack them relentlessly until we are prevented from attacking them any further by weather or we have destroyed them all," he said.
The lingering threat of a missile attack, possibly with warheads containing chemical or germ warfare agents, kept tensions high last night. Air raid alarms sounded in Dhahran and Tel Aviv, the Israeli city that was the target of Iraqi missiles the night before.
This time, no missiles were fired, U.S. military authorities said.
Nonetheless, hotels and businesses continued to remind customers how to find the nearest air raid shelter.
"Dear Guest," said one hotel flier, "in view of the present situation, the hotel has formulated a procedure for evacuation in case of an air attack."
Some 125 U.S. journalists who arrived on a military plane yesterday, only hours after a U.S. Army Patriot missile foiled an early morning Iraqi missile attack, scrambled to find gas masks and other protection.
When U.S. Army officials announced that, at the direction of the U.S. Consulate, all U.S. citizens would only be supplied with protective clothing, Saudi Ministry of Information officials located a stockpile of masks, which they sold to reporters for $36 each.
At his briefing, General Schwarzkopf said U.S. and allied aircraft
were flying "about 2,000 air sorties" a day, including attacks designed to destroy the Iraqi war machine.
He said that 80 percent of the flights "have successfully engaged their targets," adding that eight Iraqi planes had been shot down in air-to-air combat.
General Schwarzkopf gave few details about yesterday's search-and-destroy mission but said that the latest targets of the 2-day-old air war against Iraq comprised "a rather considerable percentage" of the mobile launchers left in Iraq's arsenal.
Referring to the initial success in hunting mobile missiles and intercepting the one aimed at Dhahran, he declared: "The enemy Scud campaign has been ineffective."
Iraq had modified its Soviet-made Scud missiles to increase its nominal 190-mile range to up to 560 miles, far enough to reach Israel and the now-heavily militarized portions of Saudi Arabia.