Change Your Life!
U.S., British planes attack Iraq sites
February 17, 2001
WASHINGTON (AP) — Executing President Bush's first military attack order, American warplanes joined British fighters in bombing sites around Baghdad on Friday, hitting air defense radars and other targets that U.S. officials said posed a growing threat to allied air patrols.
The strike was the first outside the ``no fly'' zone over southern Iraq in more than two years, although Bush said it did not signal a change in his administration's policy.
``A routine mission was conducted to enforce the 'no fly' zone,'' Bush said at a news conference in Mexico with President Vicente Fox. ``It was a mission about which I was informed and I authorized. But I repeat, it's a routine mission.''
At the Pentagon, a U.S. general called the strike a ``self defense measure'' initiated by the commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. The number of U.S. and British attack planes involved — 24 — was much larger than in previous missions over northern and southern Iraq in recent years.
Iraqi television said one person was killed and 11 others were injured in the attacks. Asked about the report, Pentagon spokesman Lt. David Gai said: ``We're not in the business of verifying or refuting outside reports.''
The Pentagon said five targets were struck, including long-range surveillance radars and associated facilities that Iraq has used more frequently over the past six weeks to coordinate its defenses against U.S. and British patrols. The radars allow Iraq to make better use of its surface-to-air missiles.
The U.S. Central Command said that Iraq recently increased its use of anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles, with more than 60 incidents since Jan. 1. It gave no figures for previous periods.
Asked whether the attack was a signal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the Bush administration would take more frequent and more forceful military action, Bush said, ``Saddam Hussein has got to understand that we expect him to conform to the agreement that he signed'' after the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq has not followed the requirements set down in cease-fire resolutions that were designed to ensure that it not develop long-range ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons. The Iraqi government does not recognize the ``no fly'' zones that American and British aircraft have been enforcing since shortly after the war, saying they violate its sovereignty.
Bush said Saddam and his nation must not try to acquire or build weapons of mass destruction. ``If we catch him doing so, we'll take appropriate action,'' the president said. Friday's attack, however, appeared largely unrelated to Iraq's bomb-building ambitions but rather a new chapter in the long-running battle over ``no fly'' zones.
The United States, with British and French support, established the southern zone as a means of preventing Iraqi government forces from attacking Shiite rebels. The northern zone was meant to protect minority Kurds, whose uprising after the Gulf War was crushed by the Iraqi army.
``We will enforce the 'no fly' zone, both south and north,'' Bush said. ``Our intention is to make sure the world is as peaceful as possible.''
Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, told reporters traveling with Bush that the administration was continuing the Clinton administration's policy of striking at Iraqi air defenses.
``There isn't any change in policy,'' she said.
In addition to land-based Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and Navy F/A-18 Hornets from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Persian Gulf, there were many other command, control and other support planes involved in Friday's action, the Pentagon said. Officials declined to provide full details.
Bush repeatedly said Friday's attack was a routine mission. Some on Capitol Hill saw it differently, however.
``With his decision today to target Iraqi command and control sites, President Bush has signaled that he is not interested in simply maintaining an appearance of containment,'' said Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
The Bush administration recently released millions of dollars to Iraqi opposition groups to work inside the country. Those opposition leaders were meeting Friday with State Department officials when the attack occurred.
Ahmad Chalabi, a leader of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Council, said he welcomed the U.S. action but ``air strikes alone will not solve the problem.''
``Air strikes,'' he said, ``must be within a comprehensive plan to get rid of Saddam.''
In London, Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon said the attacks were a ``proportionate response'' to an increased threat to patrolling aircraft.
``Saddam Hussein should be clear that we will not tolerate continued attempts to endanger the lives of our air crew,'' Hoon said. ``But if he stops shooting at us there will be no need for the RAF to attack his air defenses.''
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush authorized the strike Thursday morning.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold described the strike as a ``carefully planned and orchestrated strike'' that had been recommended by Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command. Because four of the five targets were outside the ``no fly'' zone over southern Iraq, the plan had to be approved at higher levels, including the president, Newbold said.
Newbold, who is director of operations for the Joint Staff, told a Pentagon news conference that it appeared all targets were struck.
``It reached the point that it was obvious to our forces that they had to conduct the operation to safeguard those pilots and the aircraft. In fact (it was) essentially a self-defense measure,'' he said.
The Pentagon said the U.S. warplanes used precision-guided ``standoff'' weapons, but declined to offer further details. From Newbold's description of the operation, it appeared likely that the F-15Es fired AGM-130 missiles, which are equipped with a guidance system that enables the crew of the launching aircraft to watch the missiles' flight path on a television monitor and steer them to their target.
The strike was the first against targets outside the southern zone since December 1998, when U.S. and British planes staged a four-day air campaign against Iraq.
Iraq has said that some 300 people have been killed and more than 800 injured since it began challenging the patrols at that time.
Air-raid sirens wailed through Baghdad Friday night and explosions were heard as anti-aircraft weapons fired into the sky.
The Pentagon said the raid was launched at 11:20 a.m. EST; the missiles were launched at 12:30 p.m. EST, and the allied planes cleared Iraqi airspace at 1:40 p.m. EST.
On the Net: http://www.centcom.mil