Following are excerpts from this morning’s Pentagon briefing by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Cheney: To date, the operation is going very well. I want, though, at the outset of my remarks this morning to emphasize the importance of being cautious in our comments. I don’t mean to be critical of our friends in the press corps, but I think it’s very, very important for people to remember a number of key things: that this is very serious business, that we are in the very early stages of an operation that may run for a considerable period of time, that there have been casualties and there are likely to be more casualties.
So while we feel very good about the progress to date, it is important, I think, for everyone to be careful about claiming victory or making assumptions about the ultimate cost of this operation in terms of casualties. So far so good, but I would urge all of you to be cautious in your reporting just as we’re trying very hard to be very cautious and very precise in terms of what we say about the status of the operation to date.
We’ve now flown over 1,000 air sorties in the first 14 hours of the operation. There have been over 100 TLAMs--Tomahawk cruise missiles--launched as well. So far, as of 0900 this morning, Washington time, there has been a single American aircraft lost and one British aircraft lost as well.
At present we are in the process of using our intelligence assets to assess the damage that has been achieved. As that process is completed decisions will be made about going back to restrike those targets that require additional attention, while we at the same time continue to pursue and carry out the original plan for mission.
The original plan specifically allowed for this kind of retargeting of targets that need to be hit for a second time.
That’s a normal part of the operation.
And as I mentioned last night, the operation will continue until we achieve our objectives of forcing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and implementing the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Question: Could you please describe the plane that went down on the American side, the type of plane and number of casualties?
Cheney: It involves a single casualty. I don’t know that we want to identify the aircrafts, do we?
Powell: It was an F-18.
Q: Was that a wound or a death?
Cheney: A death.
Q: What other information do you have about that casualty?
Cheney: All I can give you at this time is that the total U.S. losses are one aircraft and one individual.
Q: Can you tell us that the operation is still a total air operation? We have reports of some movement of ground troops near the border. Is there a preparation phase going on for ground forces?
Cheney: Again, we never get into the business of speculation about future operations in order to safeguard the security of those operations. The activities that are now under way are obviously primarily the air portion of the campaign. That does not mean that we will not at some point engage ground forces as well. But we don’t have anything to announce at this point.
Q: Do you expect it to continue for hours or days or weeks?
Cheney: As I said earlier, I think the best way to think about it is, it is the early stages of the air portion of the campaign that we are now embarked upon, and it could run for some period of time. We are prepared to continue the operation just as long as we need to in order to achieve our objectives; our objectives being getting Saddam out of Kuwait and implementing the U.N. Security Council resolutions. That could be a significant period of time or it could be a relatively short period of time. That will depend upon the success of the campaign and upon how he reacts to it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you have any reports of damage to aircraft? The French said that four of their aircraft were pretty heavily damaged but they only had one slight injury. How about our aircraft, how are they holding up?
Cheney: Again, I’ll yield to Gen. Powell on that. My general impression is that they’re performing very well, that any damage to aircraft has been minimal except for, of course, that one loss of an aircraft.
Q: Is there any possibility that there will at some point during the air war be some kind of a pause to give Saddam Hussein the opportunity to rethink his commitment to staying in Kuwait, or is this a nonstop operation as far as the coalition is concerned?
Cheney: As far as the coalition is concerned and as far as my orders from the President are concerned, we’ve been instructed to execute the plan, to carry on these operations until we have achieved our objective. Our objective is to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
Q: Do you have any evidence, general, of any counteroffensive at all by the Iraqis, either on the ground or otherwise?
Powell: No. The only Iraqi action I’m aware of was the artillery strike across the border into Ras al Khafji, which you’ve seen on television, which hit one oil petroleum storage facility.
But that’s not been followed up, and we have silenced that . . . .
Q: How do you account for that? Does it surprise you?
Powell: You’ll have to ask them. I’m rather pleased that we appear to have achieved tactical surprise. We should not however rule out the possibility of Iraqi action either in the air or on the ground, and I can assure you that we are on the lookout for it.
Q: Any damage--any assessment, sir, of Iraqi aircraft, airfields? Can you give us any rough sense of what you have hit successfully?
Powell: Of all of the air sorties that went in, we are rating 80% of them as having been effective, meaning the aircraft got to its target, delivered its ordinance, and returned.
For those that are in the 20%, that includes those that had mechanical problems, weather problems, or because of the very tight control we had over the aircraft, they did not make the kind of positive identification of the target that we required before going in and launching under the rules of engagement to minimize collateral civilian damage.
So, we’re very satisfied with that level of performance on the part of our aircraft. We are pleased with the initial results. We have damaged the command and control capability of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi armed forces. We believe we have done reasonably well as best we know right now with the preliminary bomb damage assessment in attacking airfields, in attacking fixed SCUD facilities around the countryside. But I once again caution you that this is very preliminary, only 12 hours into the operation.