The Pentagon's acknowledgement that the mission was only partially successful raised the possibility of additional strikes inside Iraq. However any further action is likely to depend primarily on the extent to which Baghdad now demonstrates its compliance with the United Nations ceasefire resolutions.
The Pentagon showed video tapes of the bomb drops on anti-aircraft missile batteries and air defence command centres, showing some being hit and others missed. Of four mobile batteries in the southern no-fly zone, only one was considered destroyed. Two were dispersed out of harm's way by the Iraqi military and a fourth, near Basra, was believed to be still operational.
'It's fair to say that not every single target was hit,' the Pentagon spokesman said. 'But that was never our measure of success.' He said the overall impact of the mission was that Iraq's air defence capability in the area had been 'seriously degraded'. Asked whether allied aircraft may have to return to finish the job, he said: 'I don't know yet.'
President George Bush, in a brief exchange with journalists at the Oval Office, called the mission a 'big success'. He added: 'The skies are a lot safer today for our pilots. Let's just hope that Saddam Hussein got the message. I hope that he will now comply with these United Nations resolutions.'
The Bush administration underlined, meanwhile, that further military strikes would be ordered if President Saddam failed to yield to all UN demands. 'We clearly have the capacity to do it again and go after a wider set of options,' the US Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney said. He also dismissed as 'gibberish' claims by Saddam Hussein that among 19 Iraqis killed in the allied raid, some were civilians.
The Pentagon nonetheless confirmed that at least one building not identified as a target, which could have been a civilian habitation, had inadvertently been hit during the mission.
Bill Clinton, the president-elect, continued to express support for the action, but put some distance between himself and President Bush, noting that he did not see President Saddam's removal as a condition of repairing relations with Iraq. 'I am not obsessed with the man,' he told the New York Times, in an apparent jab at the outgoing administration. 'But I am obsessed with the standards of conduct embodied in those UN accords, and I would urge him to change his behaviour.'
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, remained defiant, saying that Wednesday's 'aggression' would not change Iraq's stand in rejecting the no- fly zones. 'We do not recognise the ban (on Iraqi aircraft) and when it was imposed last August we clearly declared we would retaliate for it at the proper time,' Mr Aziz said.