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Allies Claim to Bomb Iraqi Targets at Will

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 31, 1991; Page A01

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 30—In a confident assessment two weeks into the Persian Gulf War, the commander of allied forces, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, declared tonight that U.S. and allied aircraft have won complete supremacy in the skies and are raining destruction at will on Iraqi targets, from Scud missile launchers to supply convoys.

Schwarzkopf, at a briefing near his headquarters in the Saudi capital, painted a vivid picture of U.S. warplanes using high-technology bombs and missiles to pound Iraqi targets with pinpoint accuracy and relentless consistency. He asserted that the aerial onslaught has left some Iraqi commanders cut off from their superiors and forced President Saddam Hussein's high command to abandon centralized control of air defenses for Iraq and occupied Kuwait.

"The Iraqi early warning system has completely failed," he said. He claimed that allied attacks have destroyed all 30 fixed launchers of Iraq's Scud missiles, all of Iraq's nuclear facilities and more than half of its biological and chemical storage and production facilities. "We're going to continue a relentless attack on this very, very, very heinous weapons system," he said.

Schwarzkopf said the flow of supplies to Iraqi troops in Kuwait had been cut from the 20,000 tons per day needed to support them to 2,000 tons a day now -- "a 90 percent degradation in {their} supply rate." He said Iraq's largest ammunition storage area in Kuwait went up Monday in "one spectacular explosion" he likened to a volcano's. "We are going to go back and visit it again to get anything else that happens to be left there," he said.

Schwarzkopf said the level of devastation -- which he portrayed with the aid of videotapes, charts and well-timed quips -- means "there is always a chance" that U.S. ground forces may not have to launch a frontal attack against dug-in Iraqi defenses. Many officers in the field fear such an attack could cause extensive U.S. casualties. He added, however, that President Bush will make that decision and said, in any case, that his Persian Gulf command is planning for the worst.

Schwarzkopf said the number of U.S. military personnel in the region has surpassed 500,000, approaching the level deployed at the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The figure gave a measure of the vast logistics buildup underway in the eastern Saudi desert.

As the 56-year-old general gave his upbeat assessment, however, Iraqi troops who attacked early this morning in the conflict's first significant ground engagement remained within the Saudi town of Khafji, on the Persian Gulf about six miles south of the Kuwaiti border.

In beating back armored attacks farther westward in the desolate Saudi desert, U.S. Marines suffered 12 killed and two wounded and lost two armored personnel carriers, Schwarzkopf said. They were the first U.S. soldiers killed in a ground encounter since the war began Jan. 17.

Schwarzkopf called the Iraqi push militarily insignificant and declined to discuss it in detail. He acknowledged, however, that it demonstrated that the half-million Iraqi troops entrenched in extensive fortifications throughout Kuwait remain able to fight despite the punishment inflicted over the last two weeks by U.S. and allied aircraft in more than 30,000 sorties.

"There's no way I'm suggesting that the Iraqi army is close to capitulate and going to give up," he said. "I think their actions last night have proven that to all of us."

The U.S. air commander, Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, said in an interview earlier today that assessments of damage caused by the relentless air strikes on Iraqi troop positions in Kuwait remain tentative. Aerial and satellite photography cannot always show such key elements as casualties and traumatization inflicted on well dug-in troops or the degree of damage done to Iraqi tanks and other vehicles by bomb particles, he said.

Schwarzkopf, his voice rising, denounced the Iraqi leadership for its announced tactic of putting captured U.S. pilots as human shields at likely bombing targets. He said U.S. and allied forces are according humane treatment to Iraqi prisoners of war and allowing Red Cross delegates to visit their camps according to the Geneva Conventions. "I challenge the Iraqis, right now, to do the same damn thing in their POW camps," he shouted.

Schwarzkopf scoffed at claims in an Iraqi war communique that the border strikes represented a major victory because they were mounted despite the best U.S. and allied air forces could muster over the last two weeks.

"Moving into an unoccupied village when there's no opposition, I don't call that a military victory," he declared. "If they want to call it a great military victory, fine. It's not the war. It's only a battle."

Then in a closing flourish for the worldwide television audience, the burly general added: "With regard to Saddam Hussein saying that he has met the best that the coalition has to offer, I would only say the best is yet to come."

Schwarzkopf's performance in the briefing seemed designed, in part, to convince Americans and others that "by every measure, our campaign plan is very much on schedule," as he said, despite the fact that no quick end is in sight. He said he was "quite confident that the direction we're heading in is going to lead to exactly the outcome that we all want to see."

Television was an indispensable tool in the effort.

As is the case with most briefings, a military public relations officer counted down the seconds for live broadcasts to begin as Schwarzkopf walked to the podium under klieg lights. Air Force Brig. Gen. Buster C. Glosson, who is Horner's chief targeting aide, also was on hand with high-impact videotape taken from aircraft nose cameras showing dramatic footage of bridges and Scud missile launchers being blasted apart by U.S. jets.

A radio reporter earlier had spotted Glosson in the men's room preparing for his appearance by spraying down his silver hair and patting his cheeks.

"I'm now going to show you a picture of the luckiest man in Iraq," Schwarzkopf said as the tape of a bombing run appeared on a television monitor. "Keep your eye on the cross hairs."

As he spoke, a vehicle appeared driving across a bridge as the U.S. pilot zeroed in. The truck drove into the bombing sight and then moved beyond it. Schwarzkopf quipped, "And now, in his rear-view mirror," as an explosion suddenly filled the screen, signaling the bomb's impact.

Glosson said U.S. jets were destroying such bridges and hunting Iraq's remaining mobile Scud launchers with 2,000-pound bombs able to penetrate even highly protected underground storage sites. He showed videotape of several mobile Scuds being destroyed by cluster bombs. These spew deadly particles over a broad area from a number of smaller bombs that shoot from the main canister as it hits the ground.

As the videotape rolled, Schwarzkopf pointed out that bombing know-how dictates bridges be attacked close to the bank, making repairs more difficult. The images flickering on the screen as he spoke showed a U.S. bomb crashing down at one end of an Iraqi bridge and black smoke shooting into the air. U.S. pilots also scored hits on a mobile Scud launcher in western Iraq Tuesday night, Schwarzkopf said, expressing belief that a planned missile attack on Israel had been prevented.

Schwarzkopf made no claim that all or even most of the mobile missile launchers have been tracked down and bombed. But he noted that Saudi Arabia and Israel enjoyed missile-free nights Tuesday after 53 of the long-range Scuds had been fired at them in the 14 days since the war began.

In the interview, Horner explained that U.S. pilots have found that their 2,000-pound bombs also can destroy Iraqi warplanes even inside hardened protective shelters, and Schwarzkopf said more than 70 of the hardened shelters had been destroyed. It probably is because the U.S. and allied air raids have been systematically hunting down Iraqi planes inside their shelters, Schwarzkopf said, that about 90 Iraqi aircraft have made a dash for safety in neighboring Iran.

"Quite frankly, the Iraqi aircraft are running out of places to hide," he added. "We now have reports that many of their smaller aircraft they have moved to roads and hidden them in residential areas that are close to the airfields because they know we're not attacking civilian targets."

"The simple fact of the matter is that now, every time an Iraqi airplane takes off the ground, it's running away."

Schwarzkopf's declaration that allied forces have achieved air supremacy meant that Horner has concluded that allied warplanes can operate with near-impunity over Iraqi and Kuwaiti skies, implying that Iraqi air defenses have lost their teeth and Iraqi warplanes have lost their ability to respond. This has allowed several shifts in tactics, including more systematic attacks on specific targets and Iraqi troop concentrations, the officials said.

For this reason, according to Schwarzkopf and Horner, statistics of how many airfields have been destroyed have less meaning than the fact that U.S. forces have crushed Iraq's air force and defense systems.

Schwarzkopf said that of 38 Iraqi airfields bombed at least once, only nine have been rendered inoperable. But he said Iraqi planes nevertheless have been unable to mount an effective resistance and now are fleeing to Iran.

Gigantic B-52 bombers have begun "constant," systematic pummeling of Iraq's elite Republican Guard units positioned in southern Iraq, Horner said. Schwarzkopf estimated the number of sorties -- one flight by one warplane -- being flown against the guard units at about 300 a day by all types of aircraft.

The Republic Guard, the most professional and best trained of the Iraqi military, has been considered key to the ability of the less able Popular Army conscripts stationed farther south to hold fast on the border. U.S. officers have said the goal of U.S. bombing in this area is to cut the Republican Guard off from their supplies coming south and, just as important, to cut off the seasoned guard commanders from the less reliable troops along border defenses.

In the first revelation of the dimension of bombings by the aging B-52s, Schwarzkopf said 27 B-52's dropped 455 tons of explosives on the Republican Guard Saturday, 21 of the high-flying craft dropped 315 tons Tuesday and another 28 let loose 450 tons today. "That's not to mention the other strikes that we're doing with F-16s, F-15Es, A-6s, etc.," he said.

He said the B-52s performed with "a much higher degree of accuracy than they're given credit for."

Allied forces were active on several other fronts today.

U.S. Marines seized Umm Maradim Island, the second Kuwaiti island in the Persian Gulf captured in the past week. Marine amphibious units launched an assault on the island only to find it abandoned. A Navy pilot reportedly had spotted the words "SOS We Serender" misspelled in rocks on a beach when he flew over the island a few days ago.

Members of a media pool were flown over the island just as Marines blew up antiaircraft weapons and artillery that had been stored there. A mushroom cloud of smoke hung in the sky after a spectacular explosion.

For the first time, Pentagon officials claimed that an Iraqi warplane fleeing for Iran had been downed, staff writer Barton Gellman reported. Two U.S. F-15s encountered two Iraqi MiG-23s heading for the Iranian border in northern Iraq Tuesday, an official said, and shot one of them down. The other "turned around and retreated," he said. Two Pentagon spokesmen had denied the report when questioned by a reporter Tuesday.


© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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