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World - Middle East


Pentagon unveils details of Operation Desert Fox

December 16, 1998
Web posted at: 10:11 p.m. EST (0311 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. and British attack on Iraq was launched using a variety of both land-based and sea-based military assets delivering Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to officials at the Pentagon.

Sources tell CNN that more than 200 cruise missiles were launched at targets in northern and southern Iraq and in the Baghdad area.

"Iraq should not misunderstand our determination," said Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who briefed reporters at the Pentagon along with Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Cohen said the objective of the military attack was to erode Iraq's military capability and ability to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He would not give a timetable for how long the attack would last.

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While only American and British forces were involved, Cohen maintained that other countries, which he didn't identify, were supportive of the attack. However, he said the scope of the force was limited so that it could strike quickly and maintain the element of surprise.

"(These countries) were prepared to volunteer assets, and they did in fact call and say they would be supportive of anything that we were to undertake." Cohen said. "We had tried to maximize our ability to strike quickly without any further warning."

The military operation began at 5 p.m. EST Wednesday (2200 GMT/1 a.m. Thursday in Baghdad).

Shelton said the attack included U.S. Navy aircraft launched from the aircraft carrier and land-based aircraft from both the U.S. Air Force and the Royal Air Force, operating from unspecified bases in the region. Cruise missiles were launched both by U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers and from U.S. Navy ships at sea.

Because the operation was not complete, neither Cohen nor Shelton would discuss specifics of the attack, including the number of aircraft sorties, a list of targets or damage assessments. Cohen did say, about 90 minutes into the attack, that he was not aware of any U.S. casualties to that point.

In the wake of the attack, the U.S. military is sending additional firepower to the Persian Gulf area, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, with its battle group, and 57 additional strike aircraft. Included will be 10 F-117 stealth fighters and 25 F-16 fighters.

The Carl Vinson will be in the Persian Gulf by Friday. Also, an additional brigade of ground troops is being deployed to augment the 20,000 soldiers already in Kuwait.

Cohen, a former Republican senator from Maine, said that the pending vote on President Bill Clinton's impeachment in the U.S. House played no role in the decision to bomb Iraq.

"I have come to the conclusion, looking at the facts, that this was in America's national security interests," Cohen said. "I am prepared to place 30 years of public service on the line to say the only factor that was important in this decision is what was in the American people's best interest. There were no other factors."

Shelton said logistical considerations, including the pending arrival of the second aircraft carrier, made Wednesday the right time to launch the attack and that the military plan had been approved back in November.

"I wholeheartedly supported the president's decision," he said.

Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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