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  U.S. Commander: Attacks Caused Major Damage

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz speaks to the press Monday. (Reuters)
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 1998; Page A31

The U.S. commander who directed the four-day air war against Iraq declared victory yesterday but said the Pentagon did not know how long it might take President Saddam Hussein to rebuild the military infrastructure destroyed by U.S. and British bombs and missiles.

U.S. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who oversaw the operation from a high-tech crisis room at his headquarters in Tampa, gave his first public assessment of the attack yesterday, disputing claims from Saddam Hussein and others that Iraq emerged victorious by its ability to absorb the strikes.

"I guarantee you nobody is working this morning in Baath Party headquarters," Zinni said. "A lot of infrastructure was destroyed . . . there are a lot of troops and a lot of headquarter [personnel] that have no home to go home to and have lost the ability to command and control and [lost] a lot of equipment."

In Baghdad, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz belittled the results of the attack. Some 62 members of the military, including 38 members of the Republican Guard, were killed, and 180 were wounded, he said. "What they really destroyed are barracks of the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard. . . . Barracks and buildings cannot be moved and cannot be protected. . . . These barracks and buildings can and certainly will be rebuilt."

U.S. officials have said their main goals during Operation Desert Fox were to degrade Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors and to diminish its ability to make and protect biological and chemical weapons. But an unstated aim, several senior military leaders have confirmed, was to destroy personnel and equipment, such as the Secret Service Organization and Special Republican Guard, which protect Saddam Hussein and allow him to maintain a hold on power.

Zinni said yesterday that destabilizing the government was not the aim of the airstrikes, but "I hope we contributed to it."

Zinni said the decision to end the airstrikes after four days signaled the completion of the mission rather than a temporary halt. He said bombing would resume automatically only if Saddam Hussein threatened U.S. forces that are in the region enforcing U.N. sanctions and a northern and southern no-fly zone over Iraq.

Officials have purposefully been vague about what other actions by the Iraqi government might trigger renewed strikes. Zinni said yesterday that further military action was not a part of Operation Desert Fox and would take a decision by President Clinton.

With the potential for further military action persisting, 15,000 U.S. troops sent to the Persian Gulf in the prelude to the strikes remain in the region, including 5,000 Army troops and an extra aircraft carrier on hold in the region. Pentagon officials said they hope to make a decision in the next days about whether to send the extra units home.

These troops are in addition to about 24,000 troops on more or less indefinite deployment to the Persian Gulf region.

Refuting earlier suggestions from the Pentagon that the attack was a mixed success, Zinni called the airstrikes perhaps the most accurate in U.S. military history. U.S. and British bombs and missiles, he said, had struck 85 of the nearly 100 targets attacked. About 74 percent of the total number of strikes were "fully successful," a number that contrasts somewhat with preliminary figures given by the U.S. Joint Staff in the past two days.

Zinni explained that it is possible for some strikes that do only light damage to be "fully successful" if that damage, for example, incapacitates a targeted radio transmitter or surface-to-air missile site.

Ship-fired cruise missiles, he said, "far exceeded" an 85 percent accuracy standard, meaning that 85 percent of those fired reach their intended targets. "We were very pleased," he said.

Over the four-day period, 300 strike fighters, bombers and support aircraft flew 600 sorties, more than half of them at night. Another 40 ships took part in the attack, with 10 of them firing cruise missiles.

In all, more than 600 bombs were dropped, 90 cruise missiles fired from the air and another 300 from ships at sea. The estimated 1,000 pieces of ordnance thrown against 97 targets equals about 250 weapons used each day. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, by comparison, allied aircraft and ships unleashed about 5,302 weapons a day for a total of nearly 27,000 missiles and bombs over a 43-day period.

Aziz said many civilian sites had been seriously damaged, a point Zinni and other military officials have strongly disputed.

The target list purposefully did not include so-called "dual use" sites where civilians could be hurt, U.S. officials said, adding that only selected buildings were destroyed in certain larger complexes, again to avoid civilian causalities.

"We obviously selected our targets carefully to minimize as much as possible any collateral or civilian damage or casualties," Zinni said.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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