Bombing damage falls far short of Pentagon claims 3 missiles sites out of 4 targeted escape unharmed pTC

January 15, 1993|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The quick strike by allied warplanes in southern Iraq on Wednesday destroyed only one of the four anti-aircraft missile batteries targeted, the Pentagon acknowledged yesterday, but senior officials discounted the need for another attack to finish the job.

The Pentagon also said two of four targeted Iraqi command bunkers escaped damage.

The extent of the damage from Wednesday's attack was far less impressive than the claims by military leaders shortly after the raid that all the targets appeared to have been hit. Iraq managed to dismantle and hide missiles that survived the attack.

The officials continued to call the bombing mission a stunning success, asserting that it still delivered a forceful message to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein while sharply reducing the threat to U.S. pilots who routinely patrol the "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq.

The preliminary damage assessment -- largely based on videotapesfrom cameras mounted on the attack planes, pilot debriefings and other aerial reconnaissance -- may be revised, but it appeared certain that three out of four targeted missile batteries escaped serious damage, military officials said.

Only one was destroyed, and the Iraqis dismantled two others soon after the attack, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said. The fourth missile battery had remained out in the open south of Tallil, poised to attack U.S. and allied aircraft, but military officials found late yesterday afternoon that it had been taken apart and moved.

In northern Iraq, two other missile batteries, which were not targets of Wednesday's air strike, also have been dismantled, a senior defense official said last night.

At a Pentagon briefing, Mr. Williams corrected official accounts of the mission that were provided Wednesday by senior military officials, including Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, commander of the operation.

Of the 110 planes that participated in Wednesday's raid, 40 "strike" planes from the United States and Britain were given eight clusters of targets concentrated at six sites in southern Iraq, Mr. Williams said. An additional 70 U.S., British and French planes provided air cover, refueling and other support.

Earlier official accounts had 80 planes conducting the actual attack, supported by 30 other planes, with the United States, Britain, France and other unidentified countries, presumably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, providing the aircraft.

The bomb-carrying planes spent 15 minutes over their targets, not 30 minutes as reported Wednesday by military officials, Mr. Williams said.

He said he could not explain the discrepancies except to say that the military leaders regarded radar jammers and air-to-air fighters as "strike" aircraft, although they were not used to strike targets on the ground.

The new information helps explain why so many bombs missed their mark, Mr. Williams said. He also released videotape showing howlow-level clouds obscured some of the missile and air-defense sites, making accurate targeting nearly impossible for some pilots.

"It's fair to say that not every single target was hit," Mr. Williams said. "But that was never our measure of success. We don't keep score that way."

At the White House, President Bush characterized the mission as "a big success. The skies are a lot safer today for our pilots."

During an emotional farewell speech to U.S. military personnel at Fort Myer, Va., Mr. Bush, who leaves office in six days, said, "We showed Saddam Hussein once again that he cannot violate international law with impunity."

Senior officials at the Pentagon said they do not anticipate another attack on Iraq unless the threat to U.S. pilots noticeably increases. "It's a function of what else happens and what Saddam Hussein tries to do with the missiles" that escaped destruction, a senior military officer said.

The allied attack included four other targets at fixed locations: command bunkers that made up an early warning radar, communications and air-defense control network for southern Iraq. The system was designed to help Iraqi fighter jets intercept incoming aircraft.

Of those four targets, Mr. Williams would confirm only that allied warplanes destroyed two, a radar site in Tallil and an air-defense complex in Amara.

Senior officials later reported that a radar site at Al Najaf received "moderate" damage and that the fourth target, in Samawa, received "light" damage.

"To say the Iraqi southern air defense network is now seriously degraded is being conservative," a senior official said.

"Major parts of it [the air-defense network] do not work," Mr. Williams said. "In our view the operation was a success."

In Baghdad, an Iraqi military spokesman told the Iraqi News Agency that its air-defense radars in the south were fully operational. Radars were switched off during the U.S.-led raid so as "not to give a pretext for aggression," he said.

Mr. Williams said the attacking planes hit an unintended target, an unidentified building near Basra, and that U.S. officials had no way of determining the number of Iraqi casualties.

An Iraqi military communique reported 19 dead and 15 wounded in the overall attack, which it said damaged civilian areas.

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