More Scuds fired at Saudis BUSH ANGERED BY IRAQUI HANDLING OF POWS Air war over Iraq hurt by weather,fierce groundfire WAR IN THE GULF

January 22, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Iraq fired Scud missiles into Saudi Arabia for the second straight day today as allied airmen struggled against bad weather and defensive groundfire from Iraqi forces.

At least five Iraqi missiles were fired at Saudi targets, but no damage or injuries were reported.

The first missile landed harmlessly in the Persian Gulf off Al Jubayl, north of Dhahran.

A second attack came after dawn -- the first daylight missile strike by Iraq. One missile was destroyed by a U.S. Patriot defense missile, apparently near Dhahran. At least two others landed harmlessly in the Saudi desert near Riyadh.

Part of a fifth missile landed on a street in Riyadh but caused no serious damage or injuries. It was unclear whether that missile had been shot down or simply fell without exploding.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials continued to give upbeat progress reports on the round-the-clock air operation, which they said was proceeding "more or less according to plan."

Military commanders in the field said the air campaign was likely to continue for at least another one to two weeks, which would mean that any large-scale ground invasion could not begin before February.

In Baghdad, Iraq claimed it had scattered prisoners of war at potential military targets around the country, a move that recalled its earlier use of civilian hostages as "human shields" before the fighting began.

The number of U.S. servicemen dead or missing since the war began grew to 13, and the Pentagon confirmed the capture of at least three U.S. airmen by Iraq.

One downed Navy pilot previously listed as missing in action was rescued from the Iraqi desert by an Air Force search-and-rescue mission, the Pentagon said.

The allied command in Saudi Arabia reported that a Navy F-14 Tomcat was downed by hostile groundfire yesterday, bringing to nine the number of U.S. warplanes downed by Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams cautioned, however, that military officials were now delaying the release of information about downed aircraft.

He indicated that the change in information policy was intended to prevent Iraq from gaining quick information about "kills" of allied aircraft.

More than 8,100 sorties have now been flown, the Pentagon said. That figure includes aircraft sent up to guide or protect allied warplanes, in addition to those dropping bombs or missiles on enemy targets. The Pentagon has refused to say how many bombing runs have been conducted or how many targets have been struck.

For the third day in a row, heavy cloud cover and fog covered the battle zone, frustrating efforts to assess the damage caused by the massive air assault.

Because of weather delays, "We're probably three to four days ** behind where we expected to be," Wing Commander Ervin C. "Sandy" Sharpe told combat correspondents. His 354th Tactical Fighter Wing conducts flight operations along the Saudi-Kuwait border and in southern Iraq, where U.S. forces are "carpet bombing" Iraqi ground forces.

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said in a broadcast interview that the air campaign had been "slowed down a little bit" by the weather. But he said the allied operation continued to be "very successful."

Allied aircraft continued to deliver their bombs on 80 percent of their missions, the Pentagon reported. The official number of sorties flown between late Sunday and yesterday afternoon -- about 1,100 -- was down sharply from rates as high as 2,000 a day earlier in the war.

"We knew the weather was going to be a problem this time of the year in that area of operations," Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly told a TTC Pentagon briefing. "It has not had an impact on the conduct of the campaign so far."

Better weather was forecast for today, according to the Pentagon.

For the first time, a senior U.S. official claimed that coalition forces had achieved air superiority over Iraq.

Mr. Cheney, in an interview yesterday on CNN, said the U.S.-led forces had "in effect" gained control of the skies over Iraq and Kuwait.

However, Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries continued to throw up heavy, if indiscriminate, fire at attacking U.S. warplanes, returning pilots reported. Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Pepin told pool correspondents in Saudi Arabia that allied pilots were "looking at some of the most formidable air defenses ever encountered."

Congressional sources said the search for Iraq's remaining Scud missile launchers was being hampered by intensive anti-aircraft fire, which was forcing planes to fly at high altitudes, the Associated Press reported.

While allied forces intensified their efforts to eliminate Iraq's Scud missile threat, the Pentagon disclosed that Iraq was using decoys to frustrate the search for Scud launchers.

"They do use decoys and use them well," General Kelly told reporters. He called this "somewhat of a problem. I can't quantify it."

The dummy launchers have apparently been crafted out of plywood and cardboard, British Armed Forces Minister Archie Hamilton said in London early today.

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