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Captain Ryan Henry

A chat about the Strike on Iraq

The following is an edited transcript of a chat conducted on Friday, December 18, 1998 with Center for Strategic & International Studies Senior Fellow Captain Ryan Henry.

Chat Participant: Captain Henry—What is the strategic objective of Operation Desert Fox?

Captain Ryan Henry: Two objectives—One, to make sure that we delay the ability for Hussein to produce weapons of mass destruction. The second part of the declared objective is to eliminate his ability to declare war on his neighbors. The undeclared objective that is pretty important is to destabilize his regime enough to make it possible for different entities inside Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. There's a fourth point that is worth mentioning and that is the fact that by showing this will to display force, we stop people from doing it in the future—people like Kadafi or North Korea.

Chat Participant: Capt. Henry, do the targets hit so far support some strategic objective, or do they hint at preparation for ground assault?

Captain Ryan Henry: We will not send in ground troops, because that's not where America's strength is. You have to get so many troops in to support them, but we are very effective at doing precision strikes from aircraft and cruise missiles. When we go against an adversary we want to play to our strengths. The targets so far indicate that we are very interested in destabilizing his regime.

Chat Participant: I first would like to thank you for your years of hard work and dedication. What do you think the chances are of the current bombing pattern affecting the Hussein regime's hold on the people of Iraq? Will increased bombing have any effect?

Captain Ryan Henry: It can't hurt. It depends. Saddam Hussein has some of what we call pillars in his regime: the use of terror, the use of something called the special republican guard—about 10,000 troops that are specifically designed to protect and enhance Hussein's power. The third element of his power is the black market, which is caused by the sanctions. And the fourth element of his power is his family, his tribal family out of the town Tikrit.

The bombing can't do anything about the terror. It can do something about the republican guard and it can do something about the Takriti regime and, so far from looking at the targets, it looks like we are trying to destabilize those aspects.

Chat Participant: Is the involvement of the larger B-52 ALCMs affecting the mission effectiveness along with the use of Tomahawks now?

Captain Ryan Henry: There are two principle types of long range cruise missiles we have. I believe the B-52's are ALCM’s—Air Launch Cruise Missiles—and then we had eight surface ships that launched 280 missiles the first night—those are Tomahawk missiles. The range on the ALCM’s is shorter but their explosive power is about twice as big. That's why the people on-site in Baghdad were saying it was much louder last night.

To answer the question of how are they used—we used a large fraction of our Tomahawk missiles the first night, so it made sense to use the B-52’s. They had to fly about 20 hours round trip to launch their missiles the second night. They aren't quite as reliable, so the first night you want to use the more reliable missiles. There's a second battle group entering today and in that group there's about 500 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Chat Participant: What elements of this attack on Iraq will lead our government to the conclusion that the bombing may end and we have accomplished our goals?

Captain Ryan Henry: Well, as we talked about at first, there are the two declared objectives. We can really never know that well about the weapons of mass destruction, especially the chemical and biological weapons. Biological weapons can be made in the size of a microbrewery and chemical weapons can be made in something the size of a pharmacy.

We have an extremely high level of confidence that we have severely impacted his ability to wage war on his neighbors. Only time will tell whether or not we've destabilized his regime enough to be toppled. That's something that would take at least a week to two months to tell.

Chat Participant: What is the plan after the bombing is over?

Captain Ryan Henry: Very good question. That's what a lot of us that are watching these things are asking. The problem is that the most effective way to stop him from having weapons of mass destruction is to have the inspectors on the ground. By bombing we've pretty much eliminated the prospect that the inspectors will be allowed back in. So in effect, we're gambling a lot that we'll be able to effectively destabilize his regime and someone else will be able to come in. There are no indications to date that that's a strategy that works.

Chat Participant: Capt. Henry, what are the limits to the intelligence used to evaluate the results of the air strikes?

Captain Ryan Henry: We can't see inside buildings. We can only see outside of buildings. We can't know what people are thinking. We can't track individuals. We can track units, but not individuals. Many times it's difficult to tell what someone's intentions are. We can tell what they are doing but it's tough to know what their intentions are. One of the things we try to do is destabilize things enough that Iraqis will use unsecured means of communication which we can then intercept. And so that helps us understand not just the physical damage, but what the operational impact is.

Chat Participant: Are we not firing upon the troops in the south in hopes that they will lead the overthrow of Saddam?

Captain Ryan Henry: The answer is I don't know. It seems that since we are dropping leaflets that first of all we'd rather not kill them if we don't have to. We would like them to turn against Saddam, so we are trying to create an environment where that can happen. A final point is that we are very concerned about weakening Iraq to the extent where it would be very easy for either Iran or Syria to invade them.

Chat Participant: Captain Henry, does the U.S. suspect Saddam of accepting financial help outside of trade, and if so, couldn't he rebuild and restock his weapons fairly quickly after the bombing has stopped?

Captain Ryan Henry: Yes, if we don't have means to specifically monitor that trade, which we've improved a lot during the Gulf War, and if we don't keep the coalition together. So that's why it's important to keep France, Russia and China from getting too upset at us so they won't trade arms with Iraq.

Chat Participant: So how will they monitor if UNSCOM cannot go back to Iraq?

Captain Ryan Henry: They won't. That most effective monitoring mechanism is forfeited unless we are invited back in, which wouldn't make sense.

Chat Participant: How long does it take the missiles to reach Iraq?

Captain Ryan Henry: When they are launched from ships, somewhere between an hour and two depending on where the ship is, the target is, and what the route of flight is. The air launch cruise missiles are similar since they are launched from roughly the same position the ships are, safe from Iraqi surface to air missiles that would attempt to fire back.

Chat Participant: Speaking of reliability, have you any figures on the reliability of the cruise missiles? And would an unexploded cruise missile allow Iraq to advance their missile programs?

Captain Ryan Henry: Cruise missiles run normally 80% accuracy. Four out of five usually explode on target.

We have an experience from the Gulf War where we had a cruise missile that landed in a lake, a reservoir, and Saddam Hussein drained the reservoir, so he would be able to get the cruise missile and conduct reverse engineering on it. There are two really important parts of a cruise missile and one is the engine that has special technology and the other one is the guidance system.

Chat Participant: Do you think that China and/or Russia will get involved?

Captain Ryan Henry: No. Russia doesn't have the means to get involved. We need to start thinking of Russia as same as Netherlands. They have the same GNP. The only thing special about Russia is that they have 30,000 decaying nuclear weapons.

China doesn't like to get directly involved in things like this. They'll complain from the sidelines, but they will not get directly involved. It’s worth noting that the reason Russia and France would be interested in helping Iraq is that Iraq owes both of them approximately 8 billion dollars apiece and they want to get their money back.

Chat Participant: What kind of leaflets Captain Henry?

Captain Ryan Henry: Before I joined one of the producers read them to me, and I'm sure there's someplace on the internet you can get the exact text, but they were basically telling the troops not to invade Kuwait. There are only two things that could prolong this more than four days. One would be the Iraqis launching their remaining SCUD missiles and the second thing would be having their troops invade another country. If either happened, you'd see a massive build up by the U.S in a campaign that you'd measure in weeks and months, rather than in days.

Chat Participant: How will the public know when the U.S. really achieved their desired goals for desert fox?

Captain Ryan Henry: We will declare victory when we are done launching our missiles, either today or tomorrow. The original plans were four days, but with Ramadan we might stop at three days. It won't matter what the specific results are. Everyone in the government will say it was extremely successful.

Chat Participant: My son is in the 82nd airborne. How can I find out if he is going to Iraq?

Captain Ryan Henry: You can't, and that's what operational secrecy is all about. But the chances of putting in ground troops—there's probably a greater chance that he's going to be struck by lightening tonight.

Chat Participant: Will anyone possibly help Iraq?

Captain Ryan Henry: No, Saddam Hussein has done a very good job of isolating himself from the world. Both countries that might think about it might be Libya and North Korea and they don't have the means to do that directly.

Chat Participant: That you know of...have there been any substantial troop movements in the south?

Captain Ryan Henry: We know that right prior to the strikes Saddam Hussein issued orders to the south telling them that when the strikes began unless he directed them not to. So if communications were cut off, they would begin. However, in the past, Hussein has issued lots of orders that were not obeyed.

Chat Participant: Given Iraq's circumstances, what is the best way they could defend themselves against these missile attacks? Anti-aircraft artillery, SAM’s, or something else? A combination of one or more of these?

Captain Ryan Henry: The best way is to cooperate with the inspectors. There's no effective defense militarily. Think about the fact that the U.S. is so much stronger militarily than any other nation but Britain and they could only have six planes participate. We are so far ahead of the rest of the world in what we can do, but currently there is no effective defense against a cruise missile.

Chat Participant: Have the Iraqi's improved their SCUD missiles since the Gulf War?

Captain Ryan Henry: I'm not sure whether we know. We think they have somewhere between two and eight left. We found 180 of them. Interesting thing about the SCUD missiles during the 1991 war that when they reentered the atmosphere, they started tumbling and disintegrating. At the time we thought the Patriots were destroying them, but they were disintegrating.

Chat Participant: Should the U.S. be concerned about any possible retaliation by Iraq?

Captain Ryan Henry: I assume you mean terrorist retaliation. By Iraq, no. But by terrorist organizations that are not part of Iraq, yes. Our government has taken appropriate steps to increase alert conditions around government facilities to eliminate that.

CNN_Host: Any final comments?

Captain Ryan Henry: You guys were certainly asking great and informed questions. Questions regarding the timing, though, one thing people might want to consider is how quickly the President said yes this time when he was presented the plan. In the past what's happened is that he's wrung his hands in public about how much he didn't want to do this and it's given Hussein a window of opportunity to wiggle out of getting attacked. This time the decision process was kept secret and it was done very quickly. And pretty much everyone was surprised. Both our allies, the news media, and even Saddam Hussein. It's important to remember that it's very difficult to use a military solution to solve a political problem. Most our problems with Iraq is how they are behaving politically, not how they are behaving militarily.

Thanks so much for the great questions.

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