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U.S. Strikes Aimed at Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton ordered a "strong and sustained"
air attack on Iraq Dec. 16 in response to continued Iraqi
attempts to build weapons of mass destruction.

Tomahawk cruise missiles streaked toward Baghdad at 5 p.m. EST
to start Operation Desert Fox. Defense Secretary William S.
Cohen said U.S. goals are to "degrade" Iraq's military
capability, to stop Saddam Hussein from threatening his
neighbors, to strike at facilities engaged in making weapons of
mass destruction and to deprive Hussein of the means of
delivering those weapons.

British airmen also joined in the strikes.

Cohen said he had ordered an air expeditionary wing and more
ground troops to the Persian Gulf region as a precaution.
Pentagon officials said the deployment order has been signed and
about 90 Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft will soon be
operating in the region. Deploying Army units include a brigade
from Fort Stewart, Ga.; Army Patriot missile batteries from Fort
Bliss, Texas, and Fort Bragg, N.C.; and a light infantry
battalion from Fort Drum, N.Y.

The new U.S. forces will join 24,100 other service members
already stationed in the region. There are 201 U.S. aircraft in
the area, including 15 B-52H bombers based at Diego Garcia, in
the Indian Ocean. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its
battle group are scheduled to arrive in the Gulf Dec. 18.

Pentagon officials said eight Navy ships started the strikes by
launching Tomahawk missiles. Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said strikes will be flown by the
U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force pilots flying from bases in
the area and naval aviators from the USS Enterprise.

Cohen said the president agreed with advisers: "We wanted to
strike quickly with no more warning, no more carrots for Saddam
and no chance to prepare for the attacks."

The attacks followed a Dec. 15 report by chief U.N. arms
inspector Richard Butler that said Iraq's compliance with U.N.
resolutions had worsened since the U.N.-Iraqi confrontation in
November. U.S. planes had been in the air to strike Iraq Nov. 14
when Saddam agreed to abide completely by U.N. resolutions.

Shelton said planning for another U.S. attack started Nov. 15.
"We assumed a worst-case scenario [about compliance]," he said.
He said the timing of the attack had to wait on Butler's report.

"Frankly, we thought the report would be mixed," Cohen said.
"But in all five areas covered, Iraq had gotten worse."

Cohen and Shelton were not specific about the attack. Shelton
said strikes generally would hit transport, air defense sites,
and command and control facilities. "We're going after
everything [involved with weapons of mass destruction] from
transport to manufacturing to delivery," Shelton said.

He said U.S. forces will do all they can to avoid civilian
casualties, but said there will be some.

Pentagon officials estimate the Iraqis have 430,00 active duty
troops and 650,00 in reserve. About 17,00 Iraqi soldiers are
involved with air defense and the Iraqi air force still has
about 310 planes.

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