WashingtonPost.com Navigation Bar
Fog of War Analysis War Goals Airstrikes Resources Front Page

Theater's Opening Act

Symbolic Bombing

Plan Spared Saddam From Pain

By William M. Arkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 30, 1998

Gen. Horner
Counterpoint from the air commander
The 1991 bombing of Baghdad was a spectacular demonstration of smart weapons, consummate planning and overwhelming military superiority. Television enabled viewers around the world to witness live what could be seen from the Rasheed Hotel in the Iraqi capital.

But the impression left by the influential images clouds the facts that the bombing of Baghdad was relatively light and the immediate human cost relatively minor. Post-war visitors and commentators, misled by the belief that the capital was a major emphasis in the bombing campaign, marveled at the absence of major physical damage. The contrast with Dresden, Tokyo, London and other cities bombed heavily in World War II, was so revolutionary it became conventional wisdom that warfare had entered a new era.

Gen Horner: The Baghdad Air War Experiment

Based upon my visits to the capital, extensive interviews with Iraqi government and military officials, and U.S. target lists and bombing records, I have developed a detailed bombing audit of the air war in Baghdad. It gives us the ability to get inside Desert Storm — and Baghdad — to pierce the fog of war.

Gaining air superiority was a major goal of the coalition war planners. An underlying objective of attacks on the capital was the strategic political goal of destabilizing Saddam Hussein's regime (and at least among war planners the hope that bombing would actually succeed in killing the Iraqi leader), according to officials involved in the planning.

Gen Horner: Success or Failure

Although many in the U.S. military and government believe the bombing of Baghdad was responsible for the Iraqi defeat, Baghdad, a sprawling city of more than four million people, was a virtual sanctuary in Desert Storm.

Public perceptions aside, the bombing audit shows that:

— Only 244 laser-guided bombs and 88 cruise missiles were delivered against Baghdad targets in 43 days of war. That's 3 percent of all smart weapons expended in Desert Storm. Overall, some 250,000 individual bombs and missiles were dropped or fired in the 42 days.

— There were 12 days and nights when there were no strikes against Baghdad. There were only 14 nights when more than two targets were attacked within the city.

For a variety of reasons, including growing political constraints on capital missions, fewer Baghdad targets were bombed as the war progressed. The campaign's end contrasted sharply with the opening night display.

Analyst William M. Arkin has studied and written on the coalition air war since his 1991 work with the Harvard Study Team on civilian casualities in Desert Storm.

Page 1 | Page 2

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

Back to the top

Navigation Bar