Iraq crisis: MoD declares Tornado bomb raids a success

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RAF TORNADO bombers hit and destroyed three-quarters of their allotted targets in Operation Desert Fox, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday.

None of the bombs that missed hit civilian targets, the ministry said.

Of the 36 missions planned for the 12 British bombers between Thursday and Saturday last week, 32 actually took off and 28 completed their missions.

The figures were given at a battle damage assessment briefing, which gave a hit rate of 85 per cent, including more than 400 cruise missile attacks. Of these, 11 per cent hit the targets but inflicted only light damage.

"Clearly, we are very pleased with these results, which represent our current assessment of the combined American and British attacks," said Air Marshal John Day, deputy chief of the defence staff and director of operations. "Taken in isolation, the Royal Air Force's success rate matches these overall statistics."

Of the 11 targets given to the RAF by operational planners from the total of 100, six involved Iraqi air defences, two were against command and control facilities, a further two against the Republican Guard and one airfield was also attacked.

This was at Talill, where Saddam Hussein was developing his L29 programme of unmanned planes designed to spray chemical and biological weapons. A picture taken hours after this attack showed the hangar destroyed.

Questioned on the subject of civilian casualties, officials said no assessment had been carried out because only the Iraqis would have any figures and those could not be trusted.

One of the criteria by which targets had been selected was on the risk of such "collateral damage" and only military sites had been attacked. Some deaths among civilian staff would, however, have been inevitable.

"We deeply regret any loss of civilian life, but we believe we have been successful in keeping civilian casualties and collateral damage to a minimum," said Air Marshal Day. "As far as we know, there were no weapons which struck civilian targets. None of the weapons which failed to hit their intended targets hit civilian targets."

The operation had succeeded across the range of aims, he said. These included damage to President Saddam's ability to produce and repair ballistic missiles, which would take at least a year to rebuild, and damage to air defences, which would take years to rebuild. The raids had also set back his biological and chemical weapons programme, and hit the Republican Guard units in charge of these facilities. Together the raids had reduced President Saddam's ability to threaten his neighbours and left him vulnerable to further military action by the West.

"As a consequence of our attacks on his military capability, and particularly on those forces closely associated with his weapons of mass destruction concealment programme, those close to Saddam will realise that we have the ability and the will to target the regime, as distinct from the Iraqi people," said Air Marshal Day.

Iraq said yesterday Western war planes fired two rockets near the southern city of Basra in the first military action since the air strikes, but the US and Britain denied it.

Iraq said four formations of planes violated a demilitarised zone between Iraq and Kuwait early yesterday. Hours later five formations returned and fired two rockets near Basra.