WashingtonPost.com Navigation Bar
Fog of War Analysis War Goals Airstrikes Resources Front Page

Allies Step Up Bombing of Iraqi Troops

By Rick Atkinson and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 20, 1991; Page A01

Post time line
Allied bombers intensified attacks against elite Republican Guard ground forces in Iraq and Kuwait yesterday, as Bush administration officials expressed growing confidence that sporadic Iraqi missile attacks would neither provoke an Israeli military reprisal nor rupture the U.S.-led coalition.

U.S. Army air defense troops armed with Patriot missiles arrived in Israel from Europe yesterday, the first time American combat forces have been deployed to the Jewish state. That was the most visible manifestation of a frantic, 48-hour American effort to encourage Israeli restraint and defeat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's apparent attempt to fracture the international coalition now fighting him by trying to draw Israel into the Persian Gulf War.

President Bush twice called Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir with reassurances of a redoubled effort by allied air forces to wipe out the Scud missile launchers hidden in western Iraq. Several Israeli officials publicly vowed retaliation for the attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa, but as dawn approached in Israel today, Israel's military had not struck back and no additional Scud attacks were reported.

Iraq's attacks on Israel brought quick condemnation from around the world, including key Arab members of the coalition. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria -- all of which have forces in Saudi Arabia -- government spokesmen and official newspapers made clear they recognized Saddam's attacks on Israel as a ploy to break up the coalition.

Allied losses continued to be relatively low considering the intensity of the fighting, with 10 planes now reported lost, including six U.S. aircraft.

Nine American crewmen have been reported missing in action in the first three days of combat.

Iraq issued its first military casualty figures yesterday, reporting 31 killed and 51 wounded in the allied bombing raids. Including civilians, 70 people have been killed, according to Iraq radio.

U.S. officials indicated that in addition to hunting for Scuds, the allied air campaign was focusing on the well-entrenched 110,000 members of the Republican Guard, the same force that spearheaded Saddam's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait and a group considered to form the spine of Iraq's million-man army.

"There has begun a shift from the first set of targets, from the Baghdad area and the airfield and defense complex," Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters after a two-hour briefing for Bush at Camp David. "We will now begin concentrating on the Republican Guard and some of the forces in the theater."

The war news again spawned demonstrations in many cities, as thousands of protesters took advantage of the weekend to voice loud and occasionally violent opposition to the Persian Gulf War. About 1,800 protesters have been arrested in the United States since war erupted Wednesday.

In Washington, a crowd estimated by police at 25,000 gathered in Lafayette Square across from the White House, chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, George Bush has got to go." The biggest rally occurred in San Francisco, where at least 35,000 marched for two miles to the Civic Center, carrying "No Blood for Oil" placards. In Salt Lake City, where demonstrators marched through the Utah capital, Chuck Hunt, a university professor, said: "They try to present it as a Nintendo game. People die in this game."

Despite the protests, most Americans appeared to support Operation Desert Storm, according to an ABC News Poll taken Friday night.

The survey of 543 Americans found that 71 percent disapprove of the protests and 83 percent support the war.

War notwithstanding, the National Football League continued preparations for league championship games today with the blessing of the White House. "The president's attitude is: The business of the country should go on, and the games should go on," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.

The first report of prisoners of war emerged yesterday, with U.S. officials saying that 12 Iraqi soldiers were captured after a skirmish with U.S. Army and Navy forces in the northern Persian Gulf. Marine Maj. Gen. Robert B. Johnston, Central Command chief of staff, said that the guided missile frigate USS Nicholas and Army helicopters, supported by a Kuwaiti patrol boat, "neutralized" Iraqi forces operating on nine Kuwaiti oil platforms.

The Iraqis had been shooting at allied aircraft with antiaircraft guns and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. Johnston offered few other details, except to note that the prisoners would eventually be interned in a Saudi prisoner-of-war camp.

Iraqi officials repeated claims that they had captured American pilots, but U.S. officials said they could not confirm the reports.

The State Department called in an Iraqi diplomat, who said later he was told that his government is obligated to provide humane treatment to any POWs.

Pentagon officials reiterated earlier assertions that allied forces now enjoyed air superiority anywhere "in which we wish to operate," as Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly, senior operations officer for the Joint Chiefs, put it at a news conference. Ten Iraqi planes -- including six sophisticated MiG-29s and three Mirage F-1s -- have been shot down and many others have fled to northern Iraq.

Iraqi Air Force Pursued in North

Allied warplanes have begun pursuing the Iraqi air force in the north, presumably attacking from both the south and from Turkey. "They're going to run out of places to go," Rear Adm. John M. McConnell, chief intelligence officer for the Joint Chiefs, said of the Iraqi planes.

U.S. officials continued to offer an optimistic assessment of the progress so far, with Fitzwater saying military planners believe "they're on schedule or ahead of schedule." But bad weather over much of Iraq hampered efforts to find the remaining Scuds and conduct a thorough assessment of how much damage has been wreaked by the more than 4,700 allied sorties now flown in the war, Kelly said.

French Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Maurice Schmitt cautioned yesterday that despite the successes to date, the war could last several months. "I believe two to three months to be a reasonable hypothesis," he said.

Israel, often isolated and viewed as an uncompromising player in Middle Eastern politics, appeared to have reaped considerable sympathy from turning the other cheek -- at least for now -- after sustaining two waves of Scud attacks without lashing back at Iraq. British Prime Minister John Major sent two messages to Shamir yesterday, expressing his condolences and suggesting that "despite this second act of provocation, it would be an act of great statesmanship if Israel did not retaliate."

The official Syrian paper Al-Thawra characterized Saddam's attacks as a ploy designed to exploit anti-Israeli sentiment felt by many Arabs. "The Arabs cannot be torn apart so that Saddam can stay in Kuwait," the paper said. The Cairo daily Al-Waft said if Saddam believes his attacks on Israel will prompt Arab states to join his side, "He will lose this bet just as he has lost all previous bets."

In Iran, despite calls for a "holy war" against the United States, the parliament reaffirmed that country's neutral stance in the conflict.

Iraq called on Moslems throughout the world to join in opposing the "unjust war." Coming about the time of the second Scud attack on Israel early yesterday, the message was interpreted in some countries as a green light for terrorists.

As a result, security precautions were intensified in many nations. Greece, Belgium and Pakistan expelled Iraqi diplomats and, in the Philippines, a bomb exploded near a U.S. government library. A man believed to be carrying the bomb was killed in the explosion, and police said an Iraqi passport was found near the scene. Egyptians have imposed some of the toughest security since World War II to protect the Pyramids and the Sphinx.

Meanwhile, there were renewed calls for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict. Jordan's King Hussein, who has appeared sympathetic to Saddam since the gulf crisis began, asked publicly for a cease-fire in the war, saying that diplomacy had not been given enough time to work. Asked about the proposal, Fitzwater said, "Our course is set."

At the United Nations, the contents of three peace proposals were relayed to the Iraqi ambassador. Diplomats said the initiatives -- from the Soviet Union, Algeria and India -- were not likely to stop the war but could lay the basis for later negotiations.

One obstacle is that the Iraqi ambassador has no way to communicate with officials in Baghdad because of the bomb damage there. "There's no fax, no telex, no telephone, nothing," said Abdul Amir Anbari, the ambassador.

Iraqi authorities also ordered all remaining Western reporters to vacate Baghdad. Before leaving the city, Cable News Network correspondent Peter Arnett noted that the city appeared calm but that the bombing is "gradually altering the skyline."

Meanwhile, the Palestine Liberation Organization called on the European Community to help bring the war to an end. "There is a possibility for a political solution" in the Middle East, said Bassam Abu Sharif, political adviser to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.

Pentagon officials announced that American participation in Operation Desert Storm now involves 460,000 troops, including a quarter-million Army, 75,000 Navy, 85,000 Marine and 50,000 Air Force personnel. More than 100 Navy ships are deployed in the war theater.

More Reservists to Be Called Up

Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams also announced that Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney is preparing to summon up to 170,000 additional reservists under authority recently provided him by the president. The Pentagon is nearing the previous ceiling of 189,250 reserve call-ups and, with some critical technical specialists in short supply, may nearly double that to 360,000.

Most of the new call-up power will be given to the Army, Williams said, but no reservist will be activated for more than one year. For example, a reservist activated shortly after U.S. troops were first deployed to the Persian Gulf last August is guaranteed of a return to civilian life no later than next August.

Allied forces continued to be preoccupied -- and frustrated -- in their hunt for the Scuds that threaten Israel from western Iraq. Maj. Gen. Johnston told reporters that Iraq was believed to have 50 of the missiles, including about 20 mobile launchers. It is not clear how many of those still survive, and no confirmed kills have been announced since Friday; at least one of the three missiles launched at Tel Aviv early yesterday is believed to have been fired from a fixed site, according to a congressional source who was briefed by the Pentagon.

All of the Scuds fired thus far have carried conventional explosive warheads, leading Pentagon officials to suspect that Iraq has not mastered the difficult technical feat of marrying missile technology with chemical weapons. France's Gen. Schmitt endorsed that theory, saying, "I do not think they have developed this."

One Pentagon official, declaring flatly that "it's going to be impossible to find all of them," said Saddam could easily husband his launchers and missiles by hiding them and suppressing all tell-tale electronic emissions.

"If he doesn't turn their electronics on, he'll have them there on the last day of the war," the official said.

Some planners expressed concern that the issue of whether the Scud hunt would succeed was disproportionate to the military threat of the missile and was sapping some initiative from the American-led coalition.

"The Scud hunt can't turn into the hunt for {former Panamanian leader Manuel Antonio} Noriega," one official said, referring to the Pentagon's chagrin that the embarrassing delay in capturing the Panamanian strongman tainted an otherwise successful operation in December 1989.

In intensifying the bombing against Republican Guard units, allied planners are not only attempting to destroy as many of Iraq's best soldiers as possible but also "soften up" defenses for an eventual allied ground assault, Pentagon officials said. Saddam has deployed the Guard in southern Iraq and northern Kuwait as a strategic reserve that can be used to counterattack allied forces lured into a "kill sack" after breaking through fortifications.

The Guard has been singled out for saturation bombing, a senior official added, and roughly 1,000 sorties will have been flown against the units by the end of this weekend. The bombing "has the potential for inducing mass surrender," the official added. "It is almost like an experiment, that if you can break the Guard, it will trickle down to the regular forces lodged in Kuwait."

Much of the air onslaught by B-52s and other bombers has been designed to disrupt command and control at the corps and division level. U.S. analysts believe that smaller Guard units cannot fight well without direction from higher authority. The Guard has eight divisions of about 14,000 men each, according to an intelligence source, with three armor and four infantry divisions and another devoted to special operations.

Detailed Assessments Lacking

But cloud cover has prevented detailed assessments of the air campaign, and congressional sources said there is no evidence of Iraqi desertions. Moreover, the effectiveness of air bombardment against entrenched infantry and armor troops is one of the most debated issues among military and intelligence analysts -- a debate that Operation Desert Storm has only intensified.

Some U.S. agencies -- including the CIA and Air Force intelligence -- believe that air power is sufficient to either drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait or so devastate them that U.S. ground operations would be much easier. But the Defense Intelligence Agency, which coordinates intelligence for the four military services, generally believes that bombing will not substantially reduce the military challenge of sending ground forces against entrenched Iraqis.

In other minor ground action, Johnston reported that artillery units from the U.S. Army VII Corps had fired on a pair of SA-2 surface-to-air missile sites containing a total of three missiles. One site was destroyed; damage to the other was uncertain, Johnston said.

Without providing further details, Johnston also confirmed that two Patriot missiles were deliberately destroyed in the air over Saudi Arabia after an accidental launching.

In describing White House efforts to restrain Israel from striking back at Iraq for the Scud attacks, officials said the first call to Shamir from Bush was at 3 a.m. yesterday, only a few hours after the second Scud attack hit Israel. The second call was made at 11:30 a.m., while Bush was meeting with his top national security advisers at Camp David.

"I understand the anguish of your people and your government," Bush told Shamir, according to the White House. "We will use every resource possible to suppress and destroy the mobile Scuds."

In his second telephone call to Shamir, Bush provided an update on U.S. and allied forces' efforts to find and destroy the mobile Scud launchers, based on information freshly provided by the Pentagon.

Fitzwater said Bush had decided to hurry new Patriot batteries to Israel in part because the United States has been unable to wipe out the Scud threat in the early days of the war, despite the fact that eliminating the missiles was a top priority of the campaign plan.

"Right now our focus, of course, is on finding the mobile launchers in western Iraq, and we're having some success each day," Fitzwater said. "But obviously we haven't got them all. So we wanted to help get a defense in there against them."

"We have admired their restraint," Fitzwater said. "We said all along we hoped they continued to show restraint."

Bush also spent two hours with his war planners yesterday. "The conclusion," Fitzwater said, "was that it's been very successful so far." He said Pentagon officials indicated that the campaign in the gulf "is on schedule or ahead as of this time."

Powell reported to the president that while the campaign is still in its early stages, "many of the strategic objectives have been achieved," according to a White House statement. Fitzwater also said that U.S. pilots had achieved "a fairly complete success" in knocking out Iraqi air defense systems.

Staff writers David S. Broder, Helen Dewar, Barton Gellman, Gwen Ifill, Tom Kenworthy, R. Jeffrey Smith, Paul Valentine and Elsa Walsh and staff researchers Ralph Gaillard Jr. and Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

Back to the top



Navigation Bar