WASHINGTON -- U.S. warplanes bombed oil-pumping facilities in Iraq-occupied Kuwait in what the U.S. command said yesterday appeared to be a successful attempt to stanch the flow of millions of gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf.
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the allied forces in Operation Desert Storm, announced that F-111 fighter bombers, using highly sophisticated technology, had attacked a coastal complex of pipes considered vital to supplying oil to offshore tanker-loading operations.
The assault, which took place late Saturday, seemed to be "successful," he said, but its results would not be completely known for a few days.
On the twelfth day of the air war, the allied forces again demonstrated their superiority in dogfights. Two U.S. F-15 fighters brought down four Soviet-built MiG-23s southeast of Baghdad, General Schwarzkopf said. No U.S. planes were lost.
[Baghdad radio reported early today that Iraqi forces had shot down an allied aircraft, which "fell in flames inside Turkish territory." The broadcast, monitored by Reuters, could not be verified.]
In a potentially serious setback for Iraq, General Schwarzkopf also disclosed that more than 39 Iraqi aircraft had flown into Iran since the war began Jan. 17 -- with 23 of them, mostly fighters, heading into Iran over the last day.
While the general said he did not know whether the pilots were seeking a temporary refuge or were defecting, he said that Iran -- conforming to its neutral stance in the conflict -- had given assurances that the planes would be impounded for the duration of the war.
General Schwarzkopf also underscored progress in the effort to use air power to destroy the Iraqi lines of supply, logistics and communications.
These aerial assaults are considered essential to weaken the heavily entrenched Iraqi forces before a ground attack begins.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said on the NBC program "Meet the Press" that U.S. forces would be prepared for a ground attack "before the end of February," but he declined to discuss the timing of such an attack.
"We've always assumed we would eventually have to send in ground forces," Mr. Cheney said, adding that "we don't want to do it any earlier than we have to."
In another development, Capt. Niall Irving, spokesman for the British Royal Air Force, said a British Jaguar aircraft wiped out a Chinese-built Silkworm surface-to-surface missile site that he said had posed a potential threat to allied warships. It was said to be the first destruction of a Silkworm site.
"We are slowly annihilating Iraq's military capability," Captain Irving said. "But we can't afford to waste weapons or waste lives" by a precipitous ground assault.
Meanwhile, Israel, the object of 25 Scud missile attacks, returned somewhat to normal yesterday, with high school pupils heading back to classes. Junior highs may soon reopen.
A censored report from Iraq by CNN's Peter Arnett, the only Western journalist permitted to remain in Baghdad, said that water supplies had been restored to the Iraqi capital and that electric power may soon be provided again by special generators.
But he said Baghdad is essentially "closed down."
General Schwarzkopf said that the allied air strikes had "eliminated" Iraq's capability for manufacturing nuclear weapons and that the assaults were continuing to remove its capacity for making chemical and biological weapons.
Despite assertions by Iraqi officials, he also emphasized that the allied forces were taking the most thorough precautions "in the history of warfare" to protect civilians and religious shrines from aerial attack, even though the pilots have been endangered by being required to take low approaches to their targets.
"We should be pretty proud of the young men who are willing to do that in order to minimize damage of this nature," he said.
Aside from striking the onshore facilities, General Schwarzkopf said, U.S. fighters inadvertently set fire to an offshore oil-loading buoy for tankers at the Sea Island terminal during an attack on an Iraqi warship.
Saudi authorities had advised the U.S. command to ignite the terminal to help halt the spill, and the allied command had been pondering how to start the fire when this goal was accomplished during the attack on a nearby Iraqi mine-laying ship, General Schwarzkopf said.
He said Saudi officials had asked the allied forces to bomb two onshore facilities in Kuwait. These facilities, called manifolds, are complex sets of pipelines used to control the pressure exerted on the flow of oil from storage tanks to the offshore terminal.
He said the attack on the manifolds had been delayed for more than a day by poor weather, which hampered use of the precise attack equipment in the bomber.
Videotapes of the assault, he said, were taken by a camera in the nose of GBU-15 glider bombs as they headed for the manifolds, situated at two storage tanks 3 1/2 miles apart. Based on the photographs, the pilot can steer the weapon -- known as a "smart bomb" -- toward the target.
Because of oil already being transported offshore in 13 miles of pipeline, a fire may rage at the loading terminal for another day, General Schwarzkopf said. But he said the results of the assault had been "very encouraging" in stopping the spill.