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Q&A WITH LT. GEN CHARLES HORNER

Lt. Gen. Horner, the air commander for '91 Persian Gulf War, was interviewed by washingtonpost.com staff over a period of several months, ending in July 1998.


Q:What was learned from the U.S. air-war experiment in Baghdad?

Gen. Horner: We learned that we could conduct bombing attacks in urban areas with precision — an important lesson. We also learned that we could survive in heavily defended areas such as Baghdad because of Stealth [jet fighters], another blockbuster lesson that most ignore. Now what we haven't learned is how to exploit this revolutionary capability, stealth and precision. I think we learned we need to do a better job of analysis of target systems such as [enemy] "leadership" [sites] in order to have effective attacks, and I do not believe we are strong in the area of understanding other cultures, modes of leadership, and the ways to alter them so as to fit our goals and objectives in a war.


Q: Did the air war succeed at achieving strategic and tactical goals?

Gen. Horner: Bombing Baghdad had success and failures. First of all we did not have strategic and tactical goals, we had the goal of evicting the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait and other goals of keeping casualties down on both sides — getting as much of the weapons of mass destruction programs as possible and suppressing SCUD attacks on Israel. The precision attacks on the Iraqi command, control and communications targets in Baghdad were a huge success as far as a military strategy to gain control of the air. Remember, that was job number one — all else depended on that — gaining control of the air. We sure didn't succeed in our efforts to disrupt Iraqi leadership, not because we were unable to kill the needed targets, but because we were unaware of what targets we needed to destroy.


Q: Why target the empty Baath Party headquarters?

Gen. Horner: In terms of bombing the Baath Party headquarters, we looked at Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party as one. We wanted to show weakness in the Baath Party and thus weakness in Saddam Hussein. We wanted to embarrass him in front of his people as well as limit the loss of life. But what we didn't realize was that it doesn't matter what the people think. In the final analysis, we looked at it through American eyes, which was wrong.


Q: Why knock out electrical power grids, affecting civilians?

Gen. Horner: You target the electrical power grids because electricity is used to support a broad range of activities, including the military. So, it's a valid target. You also want to bring the war to all Iraqis so that you can end it quickly without killing everyone. The downside is that after the war, people don't have power. One misconception is that we knocked out all the electricity. We did not. We knocked out certain grids. The Iraqis turned the rest off. After the war, Saddam Hussein elected not to resume electrical services to his people. He uses things like that to his advantage. We make a very convenient devil for him.


Q: Did the '91 air war have political failings?

Gen. Horner: : I can't answer that other than to say that many thought we should have killed Saddam Hussein. I can't say that such a goal is unworthy, but I am also unsure as to what it would have accomplished. If his son takes over then it is worse. If the army takes over you have to ask is it the Republican Guard or the regular army, because there is a huge difference between the two. I can tell you this: we did not bring democracy to the long- suffering people of Iraq, but I also don't think military force can achieve this political objective. So I reject the premise that we tried to achieve "political objectives" by a "Baghdad air war" because neither exist in this context. We wanted to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait and bombing Baghdad was part of that effort. Clearly there were other agendas, but for the most part we stuck to our goal of a free Kuwait.


Q: Did the U.S. campaign intend to go beyond ejecting Iraqis from Kuwait and eliminate Saddam Hussein's regime?

Gen. Horner: We never had a goal of eliminating Saddam Hussein's regime. We would have liked for that to happen but it was never a goal against which we devised a strategy. If we had had that goal then we would have turned our army north after the Iraqis fled Kuwait. Look at what we did and what we didn't do to know our goals. Of course we have been criticized after the war about not achieving the imagined goal of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and the Baathists. Perhaps that is a valid criticism but I don't know how to do that with military force, given some other constants we faced within the coalition. There was a shift of emphasis in terms of where the force was employed as the day of the ground war approached. And as we no longer had good intelligence on fixed targets associated with weapons of mass destruction and other military capabilities like SCUDs. That is what you should expect. Remember we only planned the first two-and-a-half days of the war — and then each day [thereafter we] planned an air war for two days hence. Plan for Wednesday on Monday; get it approved by Schwarzkopf on Monday night and send it to the units Tuesday p.m., so the pilots could start planning and launch the missions on Wednesday — with lots of changes depending how good the intelligence was on Monday.


Q: In hindsight did fighting two kinds of wars — mass bombing of the Iraqi army in the south and precision bombing of the regime in the capital center — create conflicts and affect the direction of the war planners?

Gen. Horner: It was not two wars it was either one war, or many individual missions areas, for example surgical bombing formed the totality of tank plinking that was so successful, it formed the major effort of bridge busting that was central to the battlefield isolation campaign, it was used to kill the fire trench pumping stations, shut off the oil that the Iraqis were pouring into the gulf from Kuwait Storage Tanks.

I disagree there were tensions between bombing the Iraqi Army and Baghdad. That thought might be gained from listening to Col. [John] Warden who wanted not to bomb the Iraqi army, he didn't think it necessary and that is why he didn't get the job as head planner. From the start of the war we bombed both, the trick was the emphasis, we bombed Baghdad more intensely at first due to the immediate need to gain control of the air and hit time sensitive targets, e.g. SCUD storage (they were gone anyway); however we were bombing the Iraqi army of occupation right from the start. As the fixed targets, the ones you call strategic for some reason, were struck then more air power was available to hit the Iraqi Army, there we always concentrated on tanks and artillery, the means by which Iraq could inflict death on our ground forces. There were some tensions between some of the land forces as to who should get priority of effort from the air strikes in January and February. But this was always resolved by Schwarzkopf, who was the Land Force Component Commander, because he was also the CINC [commander in chief] for me. I would take the suggested targets from the five Corps and blend them the best I could using my U.S. Army Battlefield Coordination Element in the Tactical Air Control Center. In the end some Corps tried to get more air by submitting longer lists; it didn't work as much of their list was bogus. Others knew I knew what I was doing and sent in very short lists and no requests for CAS [close air support (of ground troops]. They trusted the airmen. This last part describes Gary Luck [commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps] for example. That's about the only tensions I am aware of, between the Corps Commanders, some with each other and some with Schwarzkopf. (but they pretended they were mad at me. [It] made life much easier for them).


Q: Is the analysis of the '91 Baghdad air war a matter of fact or more a matter of interpretation?

Gen. Horner: People take facts and use them to prove what they want to. All in Washington tend to be guilty of that because they are in the resource chasing business. I believe there are lots of things to be learned by sober, thoughtful, honest examination of this war. Eliot Cohen's Gulf War Air Power Survey [a source for this project] is an excellent resource. He makes some mistakes with regard to his interpretation of that data but that is understandable. There is integrity in the collection and presentation of the data. So interpret it all you want to and then test your conclusions against critics and supporters, but always seek truth as best you can. On the whole air power showcased better than anyone's expectations, but that is also because we had low expectations after Vietnam and the constant stream of poor interpretations about technology and our people. No doubt there were great pluses that must be discounted, weather and terrain that favored air power, but then there were constraints that were heroically overcome logistic pipelines and living conditions (read about the British in WWI at Kut, Iraq). The coalition was key and it was masterfully constructed and maintained by Bush and Schwarzkopf. The single air commander was exactly the right way to fight air power (lessons learned from Vietnam) and I was honored to be given that role. I sure worked my ass off not to screw it up, because we were writing history and I owed that to all the pioneers who championed air power in the past and got us here. The training or the 1980s cannot be understated and the quality of our people cannot be dismissed.

In reality we were trying to get the war over as quickly and humanily as possible, and I am not proud of being in war, I hate war, but that we did our best to minimize the loss of life and damage. Sure we made a lot of mistakes but I will take the results, Kuwait free and few coalition deaths, and a lot fewer Iraqi deaths than advertised.

I will admit we didn't always do it right, nor did we have full knowledge of what needed to be done, but on the whole air power was key to the successes we did achieve and they were many and far reaching. Thank you.
Sincerely,
Chuck Horner


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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