U.S. Bombs Baghdad : Wave of Allied Jets Also Hit Kuwait : Gulf war: Explosions and fires are reported in the Iraqi capital as massive air offensive is launched. ‘The liberation of Kuwait has begun,’ Bush says.
War with Iraq began Wednesday as hundreds of American, British and Saudi Arabian warplanes bombed strategic targets in Iraq and occupied Kuwait.
Led by U.S. F-15 fighter-bombers based in Saudi Arabia, the massive air offensive began about 1:50 p.m. PST and within three hours explosions and fires were reported in the Iraqi capital.
“The liberation of Kuwait has begun,” President Bush announced from the White House shortly afterward in a statement read by his spokesman.
Early reports indicated the carefully orchestrated air raids, beginning only a day after a United Nations deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait had expired, succeeded in knocking out crucial Iraqi radar and communications facilities in Baghdad. There were no immediate reports on injuries or extent of the damage.
The attacks began in darkness after 2 a.m. Baghdad time and the Saudi military described the raids as “mammoth.”
Hundreds of American planes and at least 150 Saudi planes roared into the night sky as wave after wave of bombers carried out the attacks.
Bush, in the statement read in the White House press room by spokesman Marlin Fitzwater at 7:06 p.m., declared, “In conjunction with the forces of our coalition partners, the United States has moved under the code name Operation Desert Storm to enforce the mandates of the United Nations Security Council. As of 7 o’clock p.m., Operation Desert Storm forces were engaging targets in Iraq and Kuwait.”
Bush, in a televised address to the nation at 6 p.m. PST declared “we will not fail” and made it clear that the United States, in addition to liberating Kuwait, is “determined to knock out Iraq’s vast military arsenal,” including tanks, warplanes, chemical warfare facilities and nuclear research sites.
The destruction of Saddam Hussein’s war machine has been a top priority of Saudi Arabia, Israel and other Persian Gulf nations since Iraqi forces conquered Kuwait in a lighting invasion Aug. 2.
Bush said, “Saddam Hussein’s forces will leave Kuwait and the legitimate government of Kuwait will be restored.” Although Hussein had threatened that if attacked he would launch an attack on Israel, hours after the air raids began there was no word of such an assault or of a threatened Iraqi counterattack on Saudi Arabia.
As the bombers swarmed over Baghdad, Iraqi antiaircraft batteries fired at them and and tracers lit up the night sky. But there were no immediate reports of losses among the air fleet.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said at a briefing that preliminary reports were that the ongoing operation had gone “very well” in its first stages, encountering “limited” Iraqi resistance.
“For the time being,” Cheney said, it is strictly an air operation. He declined to speculate on when ground troops might move against Iraqi forces in Kuwait.
Cheney disclosed that at Bush’s direction he had signed an executive order Tuesday afternoon authorizing the military action after all conditions of the resolution passed by Congress sanctioning the attack, including notification of congressional leaders, had been met.
He said that in the air operation, “great care” had been taken to concentrate on military targets, avoid civilian institutions and minimize casualties. The raids were aimed at destroying Iraq’s offensive military capability, he said.
Cable News Network reporter John Holliman, reporting from Baghdad, said: " . . . Every bomb we’ve seen land has hit something directly, like the refinery. We can continue to hear the sound of bombs. There’s a tower of smoke over the city.”
Bush had been steadfast in insisting that Iraq would face a crushing attack if it failed to comply with the U.N.-imposed deadline. On Saturday he had warned that an attack would come “sooner rather than later” after the deadline.
At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Secretary of State James A. Baker III summoned Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, to the State Department and informed him that the United States wanted permission from Saudi King Fahd to begin the attack. Bandar, after meeting with Baker, telephoned King Fahd and, using code language, passed along the request for permission. Fahd, also using code language, immediately assented, officials said.
United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar received no advance notice of the attack, a spokesman said.
“What can I tell you, my dear friends? After all my efforts, after all the efforts of so many countries and so many personalities, that we are now facing a war,” Perez de Cuellar said.
The secretary general said he wanted to express his “deep sorrow.”
“I can only be saddened by the beginning of hostilities,” he added.
Americans learned of the beginning of the war from radio and television reports broadcast live from the scene. The dramatic reports picked up the sounds of antiaircraft fire and of bombs exploding.
There were some indications the attack may have caught Baghdad by surprise because lights were on in the city as the planes arrived, and were blacked out only some time after the bombs began falling.
There were no signs the Iraqi air force had launched its French-made Mirage jets to engage the attackers. Nor were there any initial indications that the Soviet-made Scud missiles, which Iraq threatened to use to land chemical warheads on Saudi Arabia and Israel, had been launched, according to broadcast reports.
Downtown Baghdad was reported ablaze with the spectacle of war: explosions that rocked buildings and flares of light that lit up the sky.
At a briefing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the start of hostilities, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Greg Pepin said the number of U.S. troops in the gulf had reached 425,000, equipped with 1,200 main battle tanks, 2,200 armored personnel carriers, more than 80 combat ships, 1,700 helicopters and 1,800 aircraft.
As Wednesday progressed, Pepin said, the Iraqi forces in Kuwait were “in a defensive position and hardening those positions.” From the gulf to the White House, the warning was that the battle could begin at any moment.
Aboard the battleship Wisconsin in the Persian Gulf, Navy Capt. David Bill had put his ship on “DEFCON 2" alert status.
“This means that we want to get ready to fight,” he said. “Gentlemen, the bottom line is the bell is about ready to ring. We need to make sure we’re ready to answer.”
White House press secretary Fitzwater had warned all Americans remaining in Iraq that their safety could not be guaranteed.
“I advise all who can leave Iraq to do so at once,” he said.
Throughout the day, the world braced for the sounds of war, but until 2:30 a.m. in Iraq, an uneasy silence prevailed. Iraq was fortifying its defensive positions in Kuwait, and the White House had warned that war “could begin at any time.”
Still, the White House had left it unclear throughout the day just what the President planned.
“We are approaching the hard decision that would have to be made for the use of force,” Fitzwater said.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler had said early in the day that “if there was an initiative or indication from Baghdad of a willingness to comply with 12 United Nations resolutions (calling for Iraq’s withdrawal), that would have to be pursued.”
Bush, for his part, went through all the normal paces of a normal presidential day--an intelligence and national security briefing in the morning, a meeting with his education secretary-designate, Lamar Alexander, and--as usual on Wednesday--an early end to his public schedule with a midafternoon meeting with Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.
“The President is calm, but confident that he’s considered all aspects of this--that he’s worked diligently with the coalition partners, and that all the planning has been done necessary for him to make a decision,” Fitzwater said early in the day. “There is a sort of resignation that we need to pursue the planning for the use of force on a very deliberate basis.”
While the more than 1 million troops were poised across the lines of potential battle on Tuesday, the diplomats had fallen silent, and the only question hanging over Washington, Baghdad, and the sands of the Middle East throughout the day was: When?
In Baghdad, the radio gave civil defense instructions during the morning for air raids, telling listeners to turn off lights during alerts, safely store fuel and cut power before leaving houses for shelters.
Sadi Mehdi Saleh, the Speaker of the National Assembly, said during the day that if attacked, Iraq would use chemical weapons.
President Bush, Fitzwater said at midday, “has gone beyond the extra mile for peace. Saddam Hussein has yet to take the first step.”
“The President is steeled for what’s ahead,” Fitzwater said.
In Europe, allied parliaments had fallen into line. The French National Assembly, by a vote of 523 to 43, approved President Francois Mitterrand’s decision to send 10,000 French troops into action in the gulf.
“I say it with regret but with determination: the use of armed force to oblige Iraq to evacuate Kuwait is now legitimate,” Mitterrand said in a statement read to the assembly.
Prime Minister Michel Rocard said France’s only objective was to get Iraq out of Kuwait. “There is no question of flattening Iraq,” he said.
In Rome, the government asked Parliament to allow Italy’s small naval and air contingent in the gulf to join the military action. A vote was expected this morning.
A last-minute appeal for peace from Pope John Paul II was sent to Bush and Hussein, which was received early Wednesday morning at the White House via diplomatic pouch.
The Pope had called on Hussein to “make a generous gesture” and urged Bush to “keep up efforts to avoid a conflict.”
DELIVERING A BLOW
Many of the high-priority military and industrial targets in Iraq are located in well-populated areas. The U.S. planes and missiles that would be used in air strikes are highly sophisticated, but the potential for many civilian casualties exists.
Sensitive targets Iraqi and Kuwaiti Nuclear, weapons facilities Roads, bridges Airfields Missile sites Oil refineries Chemical production plants Amarah: 131,758 Baghdad: 5.35 million Basra: 616,700 Hillah: 215,249 Irbil: 333,903 Karbala: 184,574 Kirkuk: 207,852 Mosul: 570,926 Najaf: 242,603 Samarra: 62,000 Sulaymanlyah: 279,424
THE FUSE IS LIT
Key times as the United States goes to war: 1:50 pm: F-15E fighter-bombers take off at 12:50 a.m. local time from largest U.S. air base in central Saudi Arabia.
3 pm: President Bush begins calling congressional and world leaders.
3:35 pm: CNN, ABC start broadcasting war reports.
4 pm: Presidential press spokesman Marlin Fitzwater announces start of Operation Desert Storm.
4:20 pm: Journalists in Dhahran report air raid sirens. In Baghdad, others report bombs falling on capital.
6 pm: Bush addresses nation.
6:15 pm: CNN reports that planes return to Saudi bases.
6:30 pm: Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell hold briefing.