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Bombing Symbolic Targets
Iraqi Air Force headquarters on Muthena airfield in Baghdad.
A single bomb in the second wave of stealth attacks on opening night had the biggest public relations impact of Desert Storm. The cockpit's videotape of the bomb was shown to the press and the public by air commander Gen. Charles Horner on Jan. 18.

The image of the bomb itself actually closing on the target — the 13-story Iraqi air force headquarters building at Muthenna airport in Baghdad — would come to symbolize smart war: Horner's service would later say an F-117 pilot "cruised over Iraqi Air Force headquarters, dropping a smart bomb down its elevator shaft and blowing out the bottom of the building."

A destroyed VIP transport helicopter at the Muthenna airfield

Forty-one more F-117 stealth missions would target the same headquarters and Muthenna airfield over the next 43 days. Sixteen missions would be flown against the same set of buildings despite the suggestion to the public that first-day bomb had already knocked it out. Subsequent attacks were mounted because single bombs can only do so much damage to larger targets and because the airmen in Gen. Horner's planning cell had a cultural tendency to focus attention on their service counterparts.

The attention given to Iraqi air force headquarters and the two capital airfields — Muthenna and Rasheed — diverted planners from more important targets. But there was one advantage to the Iraqi air force-related targets in the capital: They were politically acceptable to all because there was little risk of civilian casualties and controversy.


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