The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
On Our Site
  • Arkin's DOT.MIL column

  • Fog of War: Arkin's analysis of Desert Storm
  •   Global Focus: Desert Fox Damage Assessment
    Military Analyst William M. Arkin
    On U.S. Airstrikes Against Iraq

    Transcript of live Web discussion
    Special to
    Wednesday, Dec. 23, 1998
    1 p.m. Eastern Time

    Our online Web discussion with William M. Arkin, military analyst and DOT.MIL columnist, is happening now. During this special event, Arkin will assess target damage from Operation Desert Fox and answer your questions.

    The United States and Britain attacked nearly 100 targets in Iraq with 415 cruise missiles and hundreds of bombs, during a four-day campaign from Dec. 16 - 19, 1998. Initial damage assessments from the Pentagon indicate that U.S.-British forces hit 85 percent of their targets, 74 percent of them successfully. Bill, before we answer questions from the audience, let's take a few minutes to flesh out the facts as we know them. We understand a 97 total targets were hit and for analytical purposes, you can divide these targets into two categories targets in the Baghdad area and targets elsewhere in Iraq. Please give us a brief overview of targets hit in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.

    William M. Arkin: A total of 100 targets were hit in Desert Fox (three were added on the last night). The targets could be broken into two geographic areas -- Baghdad and the rest of Iraq -- or functionally, which I would define as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) related, security forces, and air defenses.

    Like any air campaign, hitting air defenses (34 of the 100) is to facilitate the rest of the campaign, but the main event was around the WMD and security apparatus, which I hope we can discuss today.

    Arlington, Va.: I have heard this morning that Iraq has refused to allow UN military inspectors to return in Northern Iraq and let weapons' inspectors to continue their work.

    My question is what now for US in terms of military actions? Seems Saddam is more defiant.

    William M. Arkin: President Clinton said that three things now would provoke a military response: Rebuilding WMD, threatening its neighbors, or moving on the Kurds.

    I would say that after the New Years that the U.S. gov would start to look at these three things more closely.

    FT, WORTH, TEXAS: Two holes in the roof top of a downtown palace. Done because it was internal to the city to prevent collateral damage? What kind of weapon? How much internal destruction? What was the name and purpose of the building?

    William M. Arkin: Let's be clear. There are hundreds of Ministries and palaces and offices in Baghdad. The facilities hit -- in the middle of the night -- can't be used. But I'm afraid the Iraqi military and government just takes up operations elsewhere.

    Zurich Switzerland: What happens when a missile hit a target where bacteriological or chemical weapons are (supposedly) stored. Are the gas or bacteria all destroyed or is some part of it released in the free atmosphere endangering the live of civilians?

    William M. Arkin: The U.S. made the decision not to hit any "dual use" facilities where there might be chemical or biological weapons. This may seem paradoxical given the stated mission, but it is also the case that the intelligence agencies don't know if or where Iraqi CBW might be, which is why they keep stressing that this campaign set Iraq "back" one year in terms of what it could build.

    tehran iran: Mr. William M. Arkin
    I am from foreign desk of Khordad Iranian Independent Daily, Tehran Iran

    My question is:
    Two of the American missiles dropped and were found in the Iranian Border City "Khoramshahr". Doesn't it show that the accuracy of your targeting is seriously problematic?

    So we can assume that some of your rockets had been landed on some civilian areas.

    If this is true do you now the exact number of civilians killed in the so called "desert fox" operation.
    our tel. no. is:
    iran teran 205 12 89

    William M. Arkin: General Zinni said in his press conference yesterday that no civilian damage was caused in Iraq (which of course is wrong). But I wish the Pentagon would do a better job of explaining that the damage to the National Museum was a result of the fact that it was across the street from the State Radio and TV establishment, or that Mustansariya University was hit because it is adjacent to the Ministry of Defense.

    All in all, the civilian casualties seem to have been kept at a minimum, and of course, we shouldn't t expect bloodless warfare, but you would think the Pentagon would be more forthcoming about this.

    Washington, D.C.: Why is the U.S. so adverse to removing the Saddam Hussein from power during its military actions in Iraq?

    William M. Arkin: The U.S. is not adverse to removing Saddam from power, in fact, it has been trying to do so for eight years.

    Fairfax, VA: London didn't fall during the blitz, so how can we expect Iraq to comply with our demands after such superficial countermeasures? Though it might offend our "allies" in the U.N., why don't we engage in a ground assault with the objective of tracking down and capturing the leaders of Iraq's regime? The costs involved couldn't be too much greater than an indefinite containment of the region. If it is not worth American lives to be lost in such an operation, why doesn't our fearless leader support potential Iraqi dissidents with the $95 million already earmarked by Congress for such purposes? Or shall we continue in the tradition of the Bay of Pigs and with the Kurds, by encouraging a revolt, then doing nothing to support it?

    William M. Arkin: Engaging in a ground campaign to get Saddam would in my mind be predicated on the belief that Saddam was worth it. The fact is that after eight years of war and sanctions and UNSCOM, Iraq is a shell of its former "threat" and hardly capable of lashing out at anyone. Just because we don't like Saddam doesn't mean that this is a justification for full scale war. Besides, when the whole world was on our side in 1991, the Bush administration decided not to "march" on Baghdad, I find it unlikely that this would happen now.

    Aiken, SC: Since it is clear that the UNSCOM inspectors using GPS devices supplied the military with the locations to be attacked, how will they be protected from arrest and execution as spies if they ever re-enter Iraq?

    William M. Arkin: The UNSCOM is authorized to collect intelligence under UN Security Council Resolution 799, which gives the go ahead for U-2 flights. Iraq has never liked it, and has always called them spies, but the reality is that their success is based upon collecting intelligence inside the country.

    riverdale park, Ma ryland: what is next for Iraq?
    Is it true about the three kids that were said to have been killed by U.S bombing?

    William M. Arkin: I don't know how many died (I think that the Iraqi government claims about 100 civilian casualties overall), but it appears that the damage was relatively minor. But then, Desert Fox was relatively minor.

    Naperville, Illinois: William, Does this attack, since in many americans feels as if it was not complete, put the US in danger from extremists and terrorists on domestic soil and abroad?

    William M. Arkin: I think that those who hate the United States still do and those who will act against the U.S. will also carry on. The war, in fact, will have little influence on the overall standing, once the smoke clears. But then it didn't IMPROVE the image of the United States anywhere.

    Silver Spring, Maryland: How are we going to deal with China, Russia, and France about their request of removing the embargo and removing of Richard Butler ?

    Thanks and have a wonderful Christmas.

    William M. Arkin: I would say that Butler and UNSCOM has to go. I would suggest an UNSCOM II, a successor organization which carries on UNSCOM's work but deals with the concerns expressed by Russia and others -- some of it valid -- about U.S. domination of UNSCOM.

    New York, NY: What is the likelihood that Iraq will retaliate, and what form would that retaliation take? Is it likely that Iraq will attack Israel, and what are its capabilities to do so?

    William M. Arkin: Iraqi strategy seems to be to frame itself as the victim and not respond. I see no signs that it will change this tack. However, they do retaliate by just being who they are and taking so much of our time and by being so intransigent. Until we are willing to walk away from Iraq and stop letting Saddam be in control of our lives, we are living with their "information warfare" retaliation every day.

    Fairfax, Va: Now that the strikes are over at least for the time being, what kind of monitoring and intelligence can the U.S. use to keep tabs on Iraq and what Saddam does? Also, what is the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission that the Iraqi's denied a flight into Iraq of today?

    William M. Arkin: The close watching of Iraq continues, the sanctions continues, and Iraq continues to be in a box. Clearly Baghdad has decided to minimize its cooperation with the UN and the international community. But it seems as if we've lost any leverage. What are we supposed to do? Bomb them? Iraq is in control now.

    Bethesda, MD: In your opinion, was the decision to attack, and the timetable for the start and completion of the attack, a sound diplomatic decision? Or was this a hasty action undertaken due to the impeachment hearings?

    William M. Arkin: The Clinton Administration fit Desert Fox into its busy schedule: After the UNSCOM report was filed on Wednesday, start before Ramadan, finish before Christmas. They painted themselves into a corner in November and the attack shouldn't have surprised anyone, given Iraq's behavior, but still one can't help but think...

    FT WORTH, TEXAS: Do we have any idea of the actual kinds of ordinance and the quantities used in Desert Fox?

    William M. Arkin: The Pentagon says that it used 325 Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles, 90 air-launched cruise missiles, and 600 other pieces of ordnance, primarily laser-guided bombs.

    Washington, D.C.: Follow - up question: Regarding removing Saddam from power, U.S. officials were adamant in saying that the U.S. mission was to reduce Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, NOT to remove Saddam from power. Doesn't that seem at odds to your answer?

    William M. Arkin: The OFFICIAL policy in 1991 was to eject Iraq from Kuwait, but there were a lot of other things going on at the same time. When the war was over, we could say we achieved our goals, just as the Pentagon can now say we have "degraded" Iraq's WMD. But the real prize remains getting Saddam and seeing a new government in Baghdad. I hesitate to say that this is a failure, because it's not over yet.

    Silver Spring Md.: How many of Saddam's palaces were hit and how hard?

    William M. Arkin: Eight palaces were hit, essentially the same eight that Iraq's has restricted UNSCOM access to.

    Austin texas: Mr. Arkin,
    Isn't it reasonable to assume that the Iraqis have placed all valuable assets in deep underground facilities, making them invulnerable to airstrikes? These facilities would be impregnable to any conventional ordnance.

    William M. Arkin: They don't move valuables to underground facilities, they just move them next door. That is the downside of using smart weapons: You can never really ensure that you are doing broad enough damage to have a cascading effect.

    State College, PA: Reports indicate that the bombing was directed less towards weapons sites and more towards communication facilities. What was the reason for this? Do you think it will be effective in the U.S. reaching its policy goals (whatever those might be)?

    William M. Arkin: The bombing emphasis, looking at the target list, was clearly oriented towards Saddam Hussein's residences, high-level bureaucracies, and the regime's security and transport apparatus. Though there were a number of radio and television installations hit, those were for the purpose of stopping Iraqi propaganda. The other communications facilities hit were mostly associated with Iraqi air defenses. We are roughly half-way through this live online discussion with William M. Arkin, military analyst and DOT.MIL columnist. He is here to assess Desert Fox target damage and to answer your questions about last week's U.S. airstrikes against Iraq. Send your questions by clicking on the Submit Question hyperlink, which is found in two places on this refreshing Web page the submit links are in the upper left margin and at page bottom.

    arlington, va: what's the likelihood of resuming attacks during ramadan when doing so will likely stir a public/political outcry?

    William M. Arkin: I would guess that if there is going to be rapid military action, it would happen after Ramadan, but it could be SOON thereafter.

    Clifton NJ: Why didn't Iraq put up more of a fight ... They just seem to have said " give us your best shot because we know your not really going to do anything more then what you did.. and we will keep building again.."I think it was all fluff !!!!

    William M. Arkin: It wasn't fluff, but clearly Iraq wanted to absorb the bombs and missiles and be the victim. They are professional cruise missile recipients. I think they get it more than we do.

    FT WORTH, TEXAS : How many targets were in downtown proper (Baghdad)? And do we know they name of buildings/targets?

    William M. Arkin: In Baghdad, it looks like we hit the Republican and Sijood Palaces, Ba'ath Party HQ, Ministries of Industry and Defense, the National Air Defense Operations Center, Republican Guards and Special Security Organization HQs, State Radio and TV Establishment.

    Ottawa Canada: My friends are Iraqi refugees with relatives still in Baghdad. Where can they get accurate information about exactly what was bombed and what the damage was to civilians?

    William M. Arkin: Stay tuned to We're preparing a special report on the bombing and its effects.

    Vienna: Mr. Arkin, How would you define the significance of Russia's delay with START II?

    William M. Arkin: Fallout from Desert Fox clearly. Bombing has had a negative impact in areas far from Baghdad.

    Woodbridge, VA: What key elements of the Iraqi military were damaged/destroyed during the bombing? and to what extent were they damaged?

    William M. Arkin: The damage looks to me to be pretty minor, but then this was only 70 hours with only 1000 or so weapons dropped. Nevertheless, it did demonstrate to Iraq that we are willing to use force, if they doubted it. Will we be able to go back and do it again? And did bombing undermine rather than facilitate the disarmament mission? It's still too early to say, but I see more negatives than positives in the campaign. A member of our audience asks if transcripts of this event are available to The Post newspaper. The answer is yes. We post the transcripts of this event in our chat archive and everything does is available to our sister organization.

    Indianapolis, IN: Can you comment on the current relationship between Iraq and Iran.

    It would seem Iran could have an advantage if the two countries would engage in warfare with each other.

    William M. Arkin: Iraq and Iran are millennial adversaries, but each is focused on their own problems now.

    Leavenworth, Kansas: It was my understanding for a TV News show that U.S. bombs were avoiding places where we suspect gas was being manufactured. Is this true? If so then does the threat to Kuwait of chemical and/or biological attack remain the same as before? Does Iraq have the means to deploy chemical and/or biological weapons to neighboring states?

    William M. Arkin: I know this is hard to believe, but we don't know if Iraq has chemical or biological weapons. What we know is that they have not accounted for the weapons that they built and that there is chemical and biological weapons-related material unaccounted for as well. Does Iraq have a workable BW or CW weapon though? I would say no, at least for now, but the longer that the international community is denied access to Iraq because of this bombing, the more time transpires for them to do mischief.

    Arlington, VA: What are your sources of information? If only U.S. Government, how much confidence do you have in this information?

    William M. Arkin: The web, in fact, has really widened our sources, to a variety of news media in Baghdad, U.S. and foreign, as well as the foreign press. Even Iraq itself has a Web site, so there is no lack of information.

    Washington, DC: In terms of replacing the Iraqi regime, is there still a viable Iraqi opposition to be supported? Does the US have the foreign policy backbone to support such an opposition?

    William M. Arkin: The external opposition is fractured and incapable of really having an impact inside the country. I think the CIA and U.S. government is looking for internal opposition to overthrow Saddam.

    Alexandria, VA: Picking up on a question asked earlier about Iraq storing weapons, etc., underground. Why wouldn't they do so? They've had years to build underground facilities and move materiel there. It seems reasonable to assume that they would do so in order to dodge satellite and spy plane surveillance.

    William M. Arkin: There are a couple of underground sites of interest to the U.S. and UN, such as the Jabal Makhul Presidential complex near Tikrit, but by and large, Iraq has used a system of transportation and movement to hide its proscribed materiel and not underground facilities. That's what makes the UN inspections so difficult.

    FT WORTH, TEXAS: What is the address of the Iraq Web site?

    William M. Arkin:

    This is often down.

    Arlington, VA: Mr. Arkin

    I work on the Tomahawk Weapons Control System and I know that we sell Tomahawks to the UK. IT appears that they didn't use any of them.

    Shouldn't we get them to take some more of the financial burden and use some of their sub based Tomahawks? They are pretty expensive ~$1 mil each!

    William M. Arkin: Britain certainly paid its share in this case, so I wouldn't focus my concern on them. It is expensive, and if you consider that we expended some 415 cruise missiles at an average of $1.2 million in cost, and that we have to replenish them, then we are talking about a $1 billion operation just to pay for the missiles. The joke is circulating in the Pentagon that we used two types of missiles: The Monica and the IAMs.

    Oh, the IAMs is the Impeachment Avoidance Missile System.

    Chevy Chase, MD: Has there been any increased activity in Iran, noting the precarious position of "balanced powers" in that region? If so, is the US in a diplomatic position to abate any increased threats?

    William M. Arkin: Iran hasn't moved, nor do I imagine it would.

    Kingwood, Texas: Isn't it true that Iraqi anti-aircraft fire could be responsible for "deflecting" cruise missiles?

    Did any U.S. or British aircraft actually attack Bagdad or were all the attacks there by cruise missiles?

    William M. Arkin: There were aircraft attacks in Baghdad after the first night, a combination of Tornados and F/A-18s.

    St. Clairsville, Ohio: What is the total cost of the 4-day mission on behalf of the US? AND When anti-aircraft chatter is fired and does not impact its intended target does is detonate upon falling to Earth?

    William M. Arkin: Anti-aircraft artillery does cause some damage when it falls back to earth, but it would be mostly surface-to-air missiles that would cause the most damage when fired. Iraq did not fire any SAMs in Desert Fox, however, so most of the collateral damage in Baghdad was likely caused by U.S. weapons, either directly or because they were deflected as a result of AAA.

    Annapolis, MD: Mr. Arkin: Do you feel that in the Desert Fox campaign we utilized our military forces to best effect? Why or why not?

    William M. Arkin: Given the 70 hours, the limited mission, the desire not to see any casualties (on either side), the military was probably well utilized. But was military force the right instrument? I don't think so, and I fear we have done more damage than good.

    Washington DC: To what degree has the accuracy of these "smart" bombs increased since the gulf war?

    William M. Arkin: Accuracy of laser-guided bombs is more or less the same since Desert Storm, though there are more types of aircraft that can fire them, and there a lot of pilots who have combat experience.

    Also, cruise missiles are more accurate (the Tomahawks used were Block III and Block IV missiles), so overall we have used a higher preponderance of smart weapons and the weapons are overall smarter.

    FT WORTH, TEXAS: I believe that some of the laser guided bombs that were used in downtown Baghdad were special weapons. Weapons that penetrate and then explode. Explode to the extent of causing a lot of internal damage without leveling the building. Thereby lessening the effect outside and preventing killing of innocents. Could this be true and verified?

    William M. Arkin: There is no special weapon of this type per se. Some of the LGBs used have fuzes that allow them to penetrate before exploding, but the force of the weapon and the speed it is going causes some of this anyhow.

    In fact, the U.S. has some special weapons to go after underground bunkers called GBU-28s but none were fired in this campaign.

    Fairfax, VA: Given that UK's Tornado is a ground based plane, do we know what county they operated from ? Are we trying to protect said country by not saying they used bases there ?

    William M. Arkin: Bombing aircraft operated from Kuwait (the Tornados and U.S. aircraft), Diego Garcia (B-52s), and Oman (B-1s), as well as from aircraft carriers.

    Good question, but then the provision of being able to operate from these countries -- with the exception of Kuwait -- is that we keep it secret.

    Arlington, VA: As a former Desert Storm veteran, I am very tuned into the Iraqi situation. I remember vividly the wide support from the Muslim community during that campaign. What I am wondering is how they are responding the calls from France and Russia to disband UNSCOM? Moreover, do we risk degrading our positive relationship with the Arab community in this matter? It seems patently evident that Saddam will use this turn of events as a means for advancing his propaganda machine, and allow him an escape from the UN.

    William M. Arkin: For now, Iraq is saying it won't cooperate with the UN and the Arab world is mixed on supporting Desert Fox but once again frustrated that Saddam is still there. This is a mess diplomatically, and I'm sure we'll be back again.

    Vienna, VA: Dear Mr. Arkin:

    I think if you review the imagery from the Iraqi defensive fires in Baghdad...You will spot several SAMs being fired and a couple coming back down.

    Just a friendly note....

    William M. Arkin: The Pentagon says no SAMs were fired, take it up with them.

    Norfolk Va: Why is it that carrier battle groups are mentioned in the news, but the amphibious battle groups are never mentioned? After all, it it were to become a ground war, these sailors and marines would be some of the first troops to be in actual harms way

    William M. Arkin: There are Army troops and special forces on the ground in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I have no idea whether Marines are in the Gulf.

    Ottawa, Canada: Several reports indicate that Saddam managed to get most of the Republican Guardsmen dispersed to their homes the moment UNSCOM inspectors were seen leaving Iraq. damage assessment appears to indicate that the Guard didn't lose assets such as heavy armour -- just headquarters, communications facilities and barracks which can be rebuilt. How is it possible to weaken the regime to the point where regular army units will rise up against it if the U.S. and U.K. leave it with the best-trained and best-armed troops who defend it? Thank you and Merry Christmas.

    William M. Arkin: It isn't possible to weaken the regime with this type of bombing, but I think the U.S. more hoped to communicate with the Guards and the security apparatus that they were in their sights. I would predict that this is only the opening salvo of the overall campaign, including bombing.

    Alexandria, VA USA: Mr. Arkin,

    Do you think that our military might have given a little too much information out during this attack allowing Iraqis to more easily determine what was going to be hit and when? I saw footage of Tomahawks that were bright and easy to see at night. Shoudn't they be dark since they use a turbo fan rather than a rocket engine?

    William M. Arkin: The information from Baghdad came from the news media and not from the Pentagon. It seems to me that the operational security for the mission was pretty good. Still, lots of people, like me, have spent a considerable amount of time in Iraq by now, so there is a lot of expertise about the city and country.

    Annandale, VA: By having the in country media give essentially "play-by-play" accounts of the bombardment on Baghdad, does this compromise the military's objectives? Why are the media given "carte-blanche" access to report real-time and potentially tip-off the Iraqis?

    William M. Arkin: The media is allowed in Iraq by the Iraqis and not the U.S. In fact, the U.S. made no attempt to persuade the media from leaving. I think this is the new mode of warfare, real time bomb damage assessment from the media on TV and the internet. Get used to it.

    Washington, DC: If we accept the premise that solving the Iraqi problem is primarily a problem for the other Middle Eastern countries (Iran, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc.), what are THESE countries doing and what COULD they do about Iraq?

    William M. Arkin: The problem is not just for Iraq's neighbors, but clearly whatever solution is in store has to take them into consideration. Some of these countries, such as Jordan, are sympathetic and dependent on Iraq. But the web of relations overall is quite complex.

    This does not mean that we should be paralyzed by the politics, it merely suggests that a solution has to accommodate a lot of concerns. How does Desert Fox compare to Desert Storm in terms of sorties flown, targets hit and overall effectiveness?

    William M. Arkin: Desert Fox was a micro war compared to Desert Storm, with one-tenth the airplanes and a tiny percentage of sorties and weapons used. In Desert Fox we hit 100 targets, in Desert Strom 1200, plus the Iraqi Army. This should not suggest that Desert Fox thus was one-tenth as significant, but that we spread out the attacks here to hit many things.

    McLean, VA: Sir,
    In discussions with my father, he said that the US let Iraq know when we were hitting them, that it was only going to take place at night and what targets we were taking aim at. So, in effect, Saddam had time to pick up and move himself and his weapons and that is why we were not that effective. Essentially, we took away the element of surprise. Is there any truth to that?
    Also, I have heard that Saddam has several "doubles" and that is why the US cannot target him. True?
    Thank you

    William M. Arkin: I'm surprised, with such heavy emphasis on using cruise missiles that we didn't attack during the day at all.

    And as for Saddam's doubles, what a job!

    Herndon, VA: What, if any, are the lasting effects on the recent bombing of Iraq? And what is your assessment of the number of Iraqi deaths?

    William M. Arkin: Iraq deaths seem to be in about the 100 range. But the last ing effects are more the damage we have done to UNSCOM, the effect on the UN Security Council consensus on Iraq, the cavalier attitude we expressed for the use of force, the Wag the Dog thing, etc. Human losses were minor compared to the other damage done. We've run out of time, so we'll bring this live Web discussion to a close. William M. Arkin, military analyst and DOT.MIL columnist thank you for joining us and for assessing target damage from Operation Desert Fox.

    In the weeks and months ahead we will continue to monitor developments between the United States and Iraq. The Clinton administration has warned Saddam Hussein that aerial assaults will be repeated as often as necessary to stop further development of weapons of mass destruction, and sanctions continue against the Iraqi regime. Thanks to all for participating in this live Web discussion and please come back to for updates.

    The transcript of this Web conversation will be posted for the public in the talk area of's World section.

    Happy Holidays PS -- Arkin can be reached for comment at

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar