U.S. forces surprised at lack of defense In three days of allied attacks, 175 targets hit

Cohen says he's satisfied

December 19, 1998|By Tom Bowman and Greg Schneider | Tom Bowman and Greg Schneider,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A third wave of U.S. and British missiles slammed into Iraq last night, as Pentagon officials said that more than 100 targets were struck during the first two days of bombing. One top officer noted the only surprise was Saddam Hussein's lack of a vigorous defense.

"United States and British forces are continuing to attack a wide range of military targets in order to decrease Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters. "We continue to be satisfied with the results."

Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that more cruise missiles have been launched by Navy ships and bombers in the past two days than the 289 fired during all of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Seventy-five targets were struck during the second day of Operation Desert Fox, as U.S. Navy and Air Force aircraft were joined by British Tornado attack jets to fly more than 200 missions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. B-1B, a $200 million, long-range bomber deployed more than a decade ago, made its combat debut.

Officials said there were no allied casualties. While some military officials speculated that the bombing campaign would end over the weekend, at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Pentagon officials said they were concentrating on hitting all the targets on their list.

"We have no artificial cutoff," Cohen said. "We are sensitive to the start of Ramadan, and we will take that into account."

Early bomb damage assessmentsreleased by the Pentagon show a number of missed targets.

Of 27 surface-to-air missile sites attacked, eight showed no damage and two others showed light or moderate damage. Three showed moderate or severe damage and one was destroyed. The others are still being assessed.

"Not all have gone as planned," Shelton told reporters.

Iraqi officials said more than a hundred Iraqi civilians were killed or wounded in the attacks, some of which hit residential areas. The official Iraqi News Agency reported that a museum and a Baghdad pharmacology college, female student hostels and a medical center were hit.

Rear Adm. Thomas R. Wilson, director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had no knowledge of earlier claims that a Baghdad hospital was hit. Asked later whether any civilian facilities have been mistakenly hit, he said, "Not that we know of."

Air Force Lt. Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, told reporters from Southwest Asia in his position as commander of the Air Force in the gulf, "I know absolutely nothing about it. I wouldn't put too much stock in Iraqi claims. If one was [hit], we'll have to address it. But this is the first I've heard of that."

U.S. aircraft dropped leaflets on Iraqi troops in the south, warning they would face attacks if they made a move toward other countries in the region.

"It basically said, 'Stay where you are. Stay put. Do not threaten anyone and you will not be hit,' " Shelton said.

Pentagon officials said they were not targeting all Iraqi troops but only those Special Republican Guard units involved in guarding and transporting Hussein's chemical and biological weapons.

Fifty targets were attacked Wednesday with sea-launched cruise missiles and Navy carrier-based aircraft. Last night -- early Saturday morning in Baghdad -- as the third wave struck, there were explosions around the downtown area and flashes of anti-aircraft artillery lighted the sky.

Shelton displayed photos and videos of military sites in Baghdad and in southern Iraq that had been leveled in the bombing runs Thursday.

A photo showed the results of a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on what the Pentagon said was a missile research and development site. A video showed a cloud of debris rising from a communications facility that had been hit by two laser-gided bombs fired from a Navy F-14 Tomcat.

Confirming that a radio and TV facility was struck in Baghdad along with an oil refinery in the southern city of Basra, Cohen was asked how they could be considered military targets. He was further questioned about whether the real intent of the bombing campaign was to remove Hussein.

"We are not seeking to destabilize his regime," said Cohen. The TV and radio facility was part of Hussein's command and control operations while the oil facility was used for shipments in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions against the country, he said.

Vice Admiral Scott A. Frye and Admiral Wilson said the Iraqis had not yet fired a single shot from their surface-to-air missile installations, a mobile network of radars and missile batteries that Pentagon officials continue to insist pose a serious threat to airplanes that try to fly over them.

"I think if there is any surprise, it's the complete lack of response," said Frye, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Why the Iraqis have failed to use the missiles was something of a mystery to the military leaders. General Hornburg, the U.S. Air Force commander in the gulf, suggested that Hussein might just be choosing to keep his missile batteries hidden to protect them for future use.

"He's rolling the dice," Hornburg said. "I have been pleasantly surprised."

One B-52 navigator, speaking to reporters on a conference call from the gulf, said he had returned from a 14-hour bombing mission out of Diego Garcia in which his plane launched guided missiles hundreds of miles from their targets in Iraq.

"Everybody's really sober about just what it is to fly in and launch these kind of weapons," said Capt. Kelly Lawson, 33, of the 2nd TTC Air Expeditionary Force. "It's not a game to us. It's a serious endeavor that we're in."

Troops and fliers in the region are not distracted by the impeachment proceedings as the air raids take place, Lawson said.

Pub Date: 12/19/98

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