U.S. intercepts Iraqi missiles ATTACKS ON 2 SAUDI CITIES FOILED Patriots stop Scud missiles fired by Iraqis WAR IN THE GULF

January 21, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- Iraq launched 10 menacing Scud missiles at targets in Saudi Arabia yesterday, but U.S. Patriot missile defenses blasted all but one of them out of the sky and that one caused no damage, U.S. officials said.

The sound of exploding airborne missiles ripped through the night sky and shook buildings, but there were no immediate reports of injuries from the attacks.

An initial round of three incoming Iraqi missiles, apparently armed with conventional explosive warheads, was intercepted about 17 miles outside this city by five Patriot missiles sent aloft from a U.S. Army battery nearby, U.S. officials said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Gallagher, in a briefing last night for reporters in Riyadh, said Iraq had fired two salvos, totaling 10 missiles, at Saudi Arabia yesterday. Nine of those were knocked down by U.S. air defenses -- presumably, Patriot anti-missile rockets -- and one fell harmlessly into the water.

Six of the missiles, the spokesman said, were aimed at the air base here at Dhahran, and four at military facilities in Riyadh.

Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams told reporters in Washington that the missiles were launched from southern Iraq.

"It's very hard to tell where they were aimed," he said. "The point is that they got near Dhahran and we shot them down."

That attack, which occurred shortly before 10 p.m. here, was followed about three hours later by another wave of Iraqi missiles, this time headed toward Riyadh, the Saudi capital and headquarters of the U.S. military command.

Throughout the rest of last night, air raid sirens sounded again and again.

At one hotel bomb shelter, more than a dozen children clung to their parents and a group of Japanese businessmen and their wives clutched shoulder bags bearing their gas masks.

An aggressive search-and-destroy mission against Iraqi Scuds has been under way since Iraq's first attempt last Thursday to attack one of the largest airfields in Saudi Arabia, the staging area for many of the U.S.-led bombing raids over Iraq.

Iraq has modified its Soviet-made Scud missile to increase its nominal 190-mile range to up to 560 miles, far enough to deliver a warhead to Israel and the now heavily militarized portions of Saudi Arabia. The missile threat has been compounded by the possibility that Scud warheads could contain a chemical or germ warfare agent.

The U.S.-made Patriot missile is a high-speed rocket designed specifically to intercept and explode fighter jets and attacking missiles.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Williams reiterated that U.S. commanders were determined to eliminate Iraq's ability to launch Scud missiles, not only at Saudi Arabia, but at Israel as well.

"The No. 1 priority for this operation is to find and destroy all the remaining Scud [launch] sites," he said.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander in chief of U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf, announced Friday that the U.S. and allied pilots scored direct hits that knocked out six mobile missile launchers armed with Scuds, three of them aimed at Saudi Arabia.

At that time, General Schwarzkopf said the air war against Iraq had eliminated "a rather considerable percentage" of mobile launchers left in Iraq's arsenal.

But he conceded that the search for the elusive launchers was difficult and likened it to hunting for "a needle in a haystack."

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