First strike targeted Saddam
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The first move of the U.S.-led attack against Iraq early Thursday was a "decapitation strike" using Tomahawk cruise missiles intended to kill Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
More than 40 satellite-guided cruise missiles were fired from U.S. warships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, military officials said.
F-117 stealth fighters, which carry two 2,000-pound "bunker buster" bombs apiece, also were involved in strikes apparently on a target other than Saddam.
About three hours after the strike began, the Iraqi leader appeared on Iraqi television in a taped broadcast. It was not immediately clear when Saddam taped the message, but he did say the date, March 20.
But beyond the mentioned date, the speech made no specific reference to Thursday morning's strike, leaving the question open of whether the message was taped before or after the attack.
The decision to launch the attacks ahead of planned major offensives against Iraq was made by U.S. President George W. Bush during an urgently called meeting on Wednesday in which the head of the CIA voiced concern that a prime opportunity could be lost if action was not taken, U.S. officials said.
One U.S. official said the strikes were launched on the basis of fresh intelligence on the location of "very senior Iraqi leadership," including Saddam Hussein. One of the targets was in Baghdad and another south of the capital, the sources said.
The decision to launch the strike came during the four-hour Oval Office meeting of Bush's national security team that included a briefing from CIA Director George Tenet.
Bush gave the go-ahead at 6:30 p.m. ET (2330 GMT) -- 50 minutes before that meeting broke up, the officials said.
In addition to Tenet, those on hand for the meeting included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
At 7:20 p.m., after the meeting broke up, Bush stopped to see his chief speech writer to tell him there would be an announcement later Wednesday and it was time to get to work.
Bush then went to have dinner with the first lady. Around 8 p.m. -- the end of the deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave -- Bush took a phone call in the living room from chief of staff, Andy Card.
Card told Bush that national security and intelligence officials reported that "there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein has left the country," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Around 9:30 p.m. ET, or 5:30 a.m. Thursday in Baghdad (0230 GMT), the first reports of anti-aircraft fire and explosions were reported in Iraq.
At 10:15 p.m., Bush gave his address to his nation.
"On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war," Bush said.
-- CNN's John King, David Ensor, Jamie McIntyre and Chris Plante contributed to this report