Pentagon claims success despite bombers' misses

January 15, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- In this week's raid on Iraq, American warplanes destroyed only one of the four Iraqi surface-to-air missile batteries they targeted, according to the Pentagon.

But despite that battle damage assessment, the Pentagon characterized the raid as a success, saying that Iraq had been forced to disassemble the three other missile batteries and that two of Iraq's stationary air defense command sites had been seriously damaged.

In proclaiming the raid a success, Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams insisted yesterday that it was wrong to evaluate the political and the military utility of the attack by the percentage of the targets struck.

The Pentagon spokesman asserted that the main purpose of the attack was not to score a decisive military victory over President Saddam Hussein's government.

Rather, he said, the goal was to remove the threat to allied planes patrolling the air exclusion zone in southern Iraq, and to send a strong political signal to Baghdad that it was obliged to abide by the restrictions imposed after the Persian Gulf war.

But some military officials, who requested anonymity, said they were disappointed by the results, which they say was because of bad weather and the tactics used in the raid.

One military official said that only two of the six F-117 planes, the star of the Persian Gulf war, hit their targets, which included the four missile batteries. This official said the raid's 8 groups of targets included 32 specific elements of the targets, and that the allied planes hit 19 of them.

Despite the mixed success of the raid, the Pentagon suggested that no immediate follow-up attack was planned unless Mr. Saddam again challenged the United States and its allies.

E9 Some top administration officials said, however, that

it was not yet clear if the relatively small raid -- described by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as a "restrained and modest" option" -- had achieved its political goal.

"I can't answer whether it is enough deterrent or not," Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said yesterday, referring to the raid. "All I can say is he's got to understand that if he does these sorts of things, there will be a response."

Mr. Eagleburger added that he expected the Iraqi leader to renew his challenges soon after Bill Clinton took office as president. "I could make you a bet that he will, he'll try to push Clinton within the first month or so of his being in office," he said.

The disclosure of the battle damage assessment of the raid underscored the gap between public expectations of what can be accomplished with high-technology weapons, a perception the Pentagon has often encouraged in seeking support for a high level of military spending, and the gritty realities of war, in which clouds, the excitement of battle and the restrictions imposed to reduce the risk of casualties sometimes produce misses.

In the Persian Gulf war, the military touted the notion that its bombs were so effective that each precision guided weapon could be expected to destroy a target. In reality, the effectiveness of the precision guided weapons, though much better than that of unguided bombs, was not as great as the public believed.

Bad weather, particularly clouds, was often a problem, since the precision-guided 2,000-pound bombs dropped by the F-117 and A-6 Navy planes are directed to their target by laser beams from the aircraft. What happened in the gulf war was that the coalition threw wave after wave of planes in day and night attacks on the targets so that targets missed one day were hit later.

But Wednesday's raid was limited to a single 15-minute strike involving only about 40 bombers, the Pentagon said. Seventy more American, British, and French aircraft provided air cover, refueling and other support.

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