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Clinton Says 'Mission Accomplished'

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 1998 – Service members in the Persian Gulf did "a difficult job with skill, dedication and determination," President Clinton said at the White House Dec. 19, the last day of Operation Desert Fox.

Based on preliminary national security briefings, the president said the 70-hour air strike campaign against Iraqi military targets had achieved its mission. "We have inflicted significant damage on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs, on the command structures that direct and protect that capability, and on his military and security infrastructure," he reported.

During waves of attacks over four nights, U.S. and British forces hit Iraq's air defense and command and control systems, security forces and military infrastructure, and the industrial base used to sustain and deliver deadly weapons. Eight Tomahawk capable Navy ships fired hundreds of cruise missiles into Iraq. Air Force and Navy fighters and bombers hammered targets throughout the length and breadth of the Gulf state.

Pentagon officials said initial damage reports and satellite photos indicated the strikes caused significant dammage to airfields, electronics plants, Republican Guard barracks, missile repair facilities and numerous other targets. Defense officials estimate Hussein's missile program, for example, has been set back by at least a year.

Overall, Clinton deemed the operation well planned and executed. He pointed out, however, that even though the strikes have ceased, the conflict with Iraq is not over. As long as Hussein is in power, the president said, he remains a threat to the world. Therefore, the United States will continue it's strategy of containing Hussein and constraining his military capabilities.

The United States will maintain a strong military presence in the Gulf. U.S. forces will act if Hussein tries to rebuild Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, threaten neighbors, challenge allied aircraft or move against the Kurds, Clinton said. Allied aircraft will continue enforcing the no-fly zones over North and South Iraq.

The United States will sustain economic sanctions imposed against Iraq by the United Nations. "To date, they have cost Saddam more than $120 billion, resources that otherwise would have gone toward rebuilding his military," Clinton said.

The United States will continue supporting the oil-for-food program which generates more than $10 billion a year for food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, Clinton added. "We will insist that Iraq's oil be used for food, not tanks," he said.

The United States would like to see U.N. weapons inspectors return to Iraq, providing the Iraqis take "concrete, affirmative and demonstrable actions" to show full cooperation, Clinton said.

The United States also will support Iraqi opposition groups by working with Radio Free Iraq. "We will stand ready to help a new leadership in Baghdad that abides by its international commitments and respects the rights of its own people," Clinton said. "We hope it will return Iraq to its rightful place in the community of nations."

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