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U.S. Responds to Iraqi Aggression, Extends No-Fly

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, Sept. 4, 1996 – President Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes Monday against targets in southern Iraq in retaliation for Iraqi aggression against the Kurds.

In addition, he extended the southern "no-fly" zone from 32 degrees north latitude to 33 degrees. Officials said this order denies Iraq use of many airfields and military training sites. The no-fly zone, enforced by Operation Southern Watch, now reaches from the suburbs of Baghdad to the border with Kuwait.

The president said he ordered the attack because Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "must pay for his continued brutality." U.S. military forces launched a second wave of missiles Tuesday against targets in Iraq. Pentagon officials characterized both strikes as "very effective."

Defense Secretary William Perry said Tuesday (Sept. 3) during a Pentagon news conference the U.S. strike defends vital national interests and enlarges the no-fly zone. "These vital interests include maintenance of stability, protection of friendly nations ... and protection of the flow of oil," he said. "We believe the aggressive military action of Saddam Hussein constitutes a threat to that security and stability."

Perry said 27 missiles launched early Tuesday morning, Eastern time, were directed against 15 surface-to-air missile sites and air defense control facilities in the enlarged no-fly zone. Two U.S. Navy ships launched 14 missiles; Air Force B-52 bombers launched the rest. The missiles have a range of 500 miles. He said the strikes will make monitoring of the extended no-fly zone easier and safer for coalition forces.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston told reporters Wednesday the United States launched the second wave later Tuesday to protect coalition aircrews. "In order to facilitate our pilots enforcing the no-fly zone, we wanted to do everything possible to reduce the risk to them," Ralston said.

After assessing bomb damage to the first 15 targets, U.S. officials decided to hit four of the targets again, Ralston said. Some of the targets were obscured, making bomb damage assessment difficult. Ralston said if there was any question about whether a target was destroyed, then there was another strike.

After assessment of the restrike, Central Command commanders decided the risk to aircrews was sufficiently reduced that Operation Southern Watch could continue. Once patrols resumed, two incidents occurred, said Perry. In one, two Iraqi MiGs approached U.S. aircraft, but turned back. In another, an SA-8 surface-to-air missile radar illuminated one plane, which fired a HARM missile at the radar. The radar stopped illuminating the plane. Perry said it was uncertain whether the missile homed in on the radar or whether the Iraqi operators shut it down.

The no-fly zones were created after Desert Storm in 1991. Kurdish rebels in the north and Shiite rebels in the south saw the coalition victory as a chance for freedom. Hussein's battered army entered the areas, killed tens of thousands of Kurds and Shiites and created a million Kurdish refugees.

The United Nations authorized the United States to create a coalition to conduct Operation Provide Comfort in the north and Operation Southern Watch in the south. In both cases, the no-fly zones were set.

The coalition has maintained an uneasy peace for five years. However, in the north two Kurdish groups are struggling for supremacy. One group, according to Perry, has received limited aid from Iran. The other group turned to Iraq for help. Hussein, seeing a chance to regain control of northern Iraq at the expense of both groups, leaped at the chance.

U.S. intelligence revealed the Iraqi buildup more than a week ago, Perry said. On Aug. 28, Clinton ordered Secretary of State Warren Christopher to deliver a warning to Iraq. At the same time, the president ordered Perry to prepare a contingency plan in case Iraq ignored the warning.

Iraq invaded the Kurds' northern enclave with more than 40,000 troops supported by tanks and artillery. They quickly defeated the Kurdish group defending the city of Irbil and moved toward two other cities.

The attack does not involve the United States in the conflict under way in Iraq, Perry stressed. "But it does make Saddam Hussein pay a price for his aggression, and it does position coalition forces to more effectively deter any further adventures he might be considering," he added. "We need to act now to ensure that Saddam does not conclude that he can upset regional security with impunity.

"Iraq's use of force in the past has posed a major threat to U.S. interests," Perry continued. "The issue is not simply the Iraqi attack on Irbil. It is the clear and present danger that Saddam poses to his neighbors, to the security and stability of the region and to the flow of oil in the world."

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