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Once Should be Enough, Says Desert Fox Commander

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 1998 – If he’s smart, Saddam Hussein won’t want a repeat of Operation Desert Fox, Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni said here Dec. 21.

But, if the Iraqi dictator hasn’t yet learned his lesson, U.S. forces will be standing by ready to act, the general said.

Zinni, who heads U.S. Central Command, planned and led the four-day air campaign against Iraqi military targets Dec. 16 to 19. Addressing reporters at the Pentagon, the Desert Fox commander declared the mission effectively achieved U.S. objectives.

Although all the results were not yet in, Zinni said, further analysis may prove the mission to be the most accurate U.S. air campaign ever conducted. Specialists are still doing battle damage assessments, he said, but preliminary results indicated the strikes hit 85 percent of the targets.

Of those, Zinni continued, military officials considered 74 percent fully successful in meeting the intended objective, which could range from temporarily disrupting a command and control function to completely destroying a facility.

The strikes hit airfields, bunker complexes, maintenance facilities, Republican Guard barracks and headquarters, radio jamming centers and ballistic missile facilities. Despite Iraqi claims that the United States struck empty buildings, Zinni said, Saddam Hussein clearly suffered a defeat.

Throughout the operation, CENTCOM planners made every effort to avoid civilian casualties, the general said. They did, however, specifically target Republican Guard facilities. These elite troops, the most ruthless of Hussein’s forces, normally lead Iraqi attacks and enforce discipline among the regular army, Zinni said.

No Iraqi military casualty statistics were available, Zinni said, but military officials were certain Republican Guard infrastructure – barracks, command and control facilities - - had been significantly destroyed or disrupted.

Overall, Operation Desert Fox involved more than 30,000 U.S. troops in the Gulf, and 10,000 more from outside Central Command. “We flew over 600 sorties in four days,” Zinni said. “Over 300 of those were night-strike sorties.”

More than 300 aircraft involved in strike and support roles delivered over 600 pieces of ordnance and 90 cruise missiles, he continued. Over 40 ships performed strike and support roles, with 10 launching over 300 missiles.

“Thousands of ground troops deployed to protect Kuwait and to respond to any counter action,” the commander added. “Hundreds of our special operations forces also deployed to carry out their assigned missions.”

American and British service members performed “magnificently,” Zinni said. “I could not have asked for better.” The fact that there were no casualties was particularly noteworthy, he added. "Even in peacetime, exercises of this scale can be dangerous. To do this without any casualties in the environment our forces faced, was truly remarkable.”

Military planners are now working out what aspects of the force will remain in the Gulf to enforce the U.S. containment strategy, Zinni said. How long they’ll stay remains undetermined.

The U.S. presence is “a force for stability in the region,” the commander said. “I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball and can predict when Saddam will go away. He is still a threat and [regional allies] appreciate us being there providing a deterrent to that threat. Our vital interests require our presence.”

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