- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

The U.S. military last night began the war to oust Saddam Hussein with "decapitation" strikes by precision missiles and bombs on targets in Baghdad believed to hold the Iraqi dictator or other top leaders, officials said.
An administration official called one site a "target of opportunity," suggesting the military may have hit bunkers believed to hide Saddam, his two sons and his Ba'ath Party upper echelon in the dawn raid.
But Saddam appeared about three hours later on state-run Iraqi television, saying that America had begun its long-threatened "criminal assault" on Iraq.
"On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war," President Bush told the nation in a four-minute Oval Office address at 10:15 last night. "These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign."
Mr. Bush earlier in the day met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard B. Cheney, and approved the limited strikes, which were quickly added to the war plan. Mr. Bush as of last night had not ordered the planned full land and air invasion designed to topple Saddam's regime.
Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea launched more than a dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles as the sun began to rise over Baghdad. The military also used F-117A stealth aircraft to drop 1-ton "bunker buster" bombs.
They were the first U.S. strikes on Baghdad since 1998, when President Clinton ordered four days of bombing after Saddam defied United Nations weapons inspectors. Mr. Bush justified the upcoming military campaign on the same basis.
Strike at dawn
In its history of first-night bombings, the Pentagon normally strikes in the dead of night when air defenses are blinded by darkness. The strike at dawn indicated the military was acting on moving targets that had to be hit soon, or lose the opportunity.
A U.S. official told The Washington Times this week that intelligence agencies know far more about Saddam's movements today than they did 12 years ago in Desert Storm. He said the improved intelligence includes human spies, in addition to improved technical means to monitor communications.
White House officials hope that killing Saddam as the war begins can shorten the conflict by convincing his military to surrender Baghdad to the allies, an official said. There was no immediate word on whether the strike killed top Iraqi leaders.
The attack came at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time yesterday (5:30 a.m. Baghdad time), 90 minutes after Mr. Bush's 48-hour deadline expired for Saddam and his two sons to leave Iraq. The Tomahawk, some models of which are guided by the satellite global positioning system, can be programmed onboard ships to fly to specific locations based on the latest intelligence.
Skies ablaze
The Baghdad skies lit up with anti-aircraft fire as explosions were heard in the southern suburbs and in the city center. But the limited attack was not followed by the hundreds of precision weapons that the coalition plans to drop on Baghdad military targets, indicating the planned invasion of Iraq will come later.
The Defense Department released video of the destroyer USS Donald Cook launching cruise missiles from the Red Sea.
Reuters news agency reported from inside the city that one strike may have been on Iraqi radio. It said that Commando Solo, the aircraft that has been broadcasting U.S. messages to the Iraqi people, took over the frequency.
The Turkish parliament was scheduled to vote today on a resolution to allow American aircraft to use the country's airspace. If the measure is approved, about 100 strike aircraft on two carriers in the Mediterranean Sea could follow a direct route to northern Iraq, instead of a roundabout path over the Sinai Peninsula and Jordan.
American and British forces yesterday moved against stiff sandstorms from Kuwaiti staging bases to offensive positions at the Iraqi border.
Streams of tanks and armored vehicles were seen forging through the dust storm, called a shamal, to face off opposite the regular Iraqi army, which is not expected to put up much of a fight. Some of the same units surrendered 12 years ago in Desert Storm after a brief exchange of fire.
The ultimate prize is Baghdad, ringed by some of Saddam's best troops who have been subjected to pleas for surrender in secret communications with the U.S. government.
Fierce sandstorms could prompt commanders to delay action, although soldiers and Marines use night-vision gear that pierces the dusty landscape. The United States fought in such weather in Desert Storm and crushed Iraqi land units. Satellite-guided bombs and missiles, the main aerial weapons, are impervious to such weather.
Army Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, who commands the 101st Airborne Division, said, "We always watch the weather because it has an effect on flying conditions and really a lot of the activities you can see. Everything takes a little bit longer."
"It'll slow things down somewhat, but our soldiers will get everything done in the end," Gen. Petraeus told reporters in Kuwait.
At sea, pilots on five U.S. carriers started staggering their sleeping habits so the ships can run operations around the clock.
"We can achieve surprise by going about this particular conflict, if we do it, in a way that is very unpredictable and unprecedented in history remarkable speed, breathtaking speed, agility, precision and persistence," Vice Adm. Timothy Keating, chief of the 5th Fleet, told sailors on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln poised in the Persian Gulf. "If we go, the plans we have are unlike anything anyone has ever seen before."
Some Iraqi border guards anticipated the attack and surrendered yesterday. The number was put as high as 17 by American officials and as low as three by Kuwaiti officers.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall coalition commander based in the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar, has put in place a war plan that he hopes will so devastate Iraq's military that its commanders surrender or put up little resistance.
"I don't think the potential adversary has any idea what's coming," Col. Gary Crowder, the chief of strategy at Air Combat Command, said at a Pentagon news briefing.
Col. Crowder said the United States was likely to drop 10 times the number of precision-guided munitions on the first night of its full attack than it did on the opening day of Desert Storm. That translates into as many as 3,000 satellite- and laser-guided bombs and missiles.
On Kuwait's desert border area, a land armada of more than 1,000 American and British tanks and about 100,000 troops moved toward Iraq. In all, 280,000 coalition troops are in the region, backed by 1,000 combat aircraft, five U.S. carrier battle groups and one British carrier.
More than 30 ships are capable of firing the satellite-guided Tomahawk missiles, which will fly low into Baghdad and other heavily defended areas to destroy command posts and air defenses. These unmanned missiles pave the way for the use of tactical jet fighters that will go after Saddam's forces protecting Baghdad.
Gen. Franks has positioned three U.S. carriers in the Gulf, the USS Constellation, USS Kitty Hawk and USS Abraham Lincoln. The USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Harry S. Truman will launch planes from the Mediterranean.
The main objective is the capital of Baghdad, a city of 5 million that houses Saddam's headquarters, palaces, Ba'ath Party operators and a sizable security force of paramilitary fighters and the Special Republican Guard.
Although Iraq has an armed force of nearly 375,000 troops, the United States will focus on the Special Republican Guard of about 12,000 soldiers and the 60,000-member Republican Guard positioned south of Baghdad to blunt the allied invasion.
One big question facing allied troops is whether Iraqi soldiers would follow an order from Saddam to lob chemical artillery munitions at advancing American and British troops.
"We are certainly concerned about the use of chemical or biological weapons," Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the overall ground force commander, told reporters at Camp Doha, Kuwait.
"We think the regime of Saddam Hussein and some of his closest cronies have the will and the intent, and probably the capability, to try to deploy chemicals," he said. "If it happens, it certainly would show the entire world a different message to the one Saddam Hussein has been saying over and over."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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