Raid on Iraq: Pentagon denies bombing civilian areas

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The Independent Online
ALLIED aircraft hit only half their targets in Wednesday night's punitive strike against Iraq, the White House said yesterday. The Pentagon refused to give a percentage of targets hit and insisted the raid had still been a great success, 'seriously degrading' the Iraqi air defence network and military communications.

The Pentagon dismissed Iraqi claims that civilian areas had been hit but admitted that one bomb hit a structure near Basra which was not a target. The Pentagon also refused to discuss the types of ordnance delivered, including the proportion of laser-guided bombs: 'We are not going to discuss ammunition.'

It is unclear how the coalition air forces, which had so much practice in precision bombing during the Gulf war, seem to have missed so many targets, although if they were aiming for individual missile launchers and radars those would have been very small. The Pentagon yesterday concentrated on the effect against the overall air-defence network, which appears to have been significant. The effect on the nervous system may have been greater than the sum of amputations.

Initial estimates had suggested much greater accuracy, but the Pentagon said the mission had still achieved its aim with just one anti-aircraft missile site, near Basra, remaining operational, while George Bush described it as a 'big success'.

The assessment of the results follows the usual pattern of battle damage assessment, where cold analysis reveals that a raid has not done as much damage as at first thought. Last night the Pentagon was still working through the reports. 'A lot of it hasn't been declassified right now,' a spokesman said.

Compared with the Gulf war, Wednesday night's raid was on an extremely small scale: a single strike by 114 aircraft, all of which passed over their targets in the course of about 15 minutes, according to the Pentagon. In the Gulf war, the allies flew between 2,000 and 3,000 sorties a day, continuously, for six weeks. This operation was controlled according to the 200-page daily computer-generated air tasking order.

During the Gulf war the majority of bombs dropped were unguided, but most of the targets were hit by the small number of precision-guided munitions (PGMs). The disproportionate value of precision weapons was one of the clear lessons drawn by military observers. But the Pentagon would not say how many PGMs were used. Some of the targets - missiles scattered across launch sites - may not have lent themselves to attack with single, large, high-explosive bombs.

The United States showed film of some of the attacks taken on Wednesday night. Yesterday, aircraft returned to the targets in daylight to get a better picture of the battle damage. RAF Tornados used the pods with which they had marked the targets in their alternative role as television cameras. But the Ministry of Defence did not release film or photographs of the attacks by British planes or their results. The British planes struck two sites near al-Amarah, about a kilometre apart.

Pete Williams, the chief Pentagon spokesman, described the damage as 'moderate' but said the Iraqis' southern defence system was 'severely damaged . . . major parts of it do not work'. Mr Williams said one of four anti-missile batteries was destroyed, two were put 'out of operation' and one survived. He showed film of two targets being hit and one that was missed.

'It's fair to say that not every single target was hit,' Mr Williams said. 'But that was never our measure of success.' He said the purpose was to 'send a signal' to Saddam Hussein that he must obey UN Security Council ceasefire resolutions.

Tha allied aircraft attacked eight sites: fixed sites at Talill, Najaf, Samawah and Amarah in southern Iraq, as well missile sites near Basra and Nasiryah.