U.S. Rushes Defenses to Israel : American Troops to Operate Two Patriot Batteries : Gulf war: The move may forestall an immediate retaliatory strike by the Jewish state after two attacks on Tel Aviv. Allied warplanes step up the search for Scud mobile launchers.
In an urgent effort to keep Israel from plunging into the Persian Gulf War, the United States on Saturday dispatched American soldiers and two Patriot missile batteries to Israel to stand guard against any new Iraqi missile attacks.
Israeli leaders, reversing their longstanding public insistence on military self-reliance, requested the U.S. assistance after Iraq fired 10 Scud missiles toward Israel in two separate attacks, causing a number of injuries and extensive property damage but no fatalities.
The Bush Administration’s decision to provide the advanced surface-to-air missiles and the personnel to operate them appeared to forestall an immediate Israeli retaliatory attack, a development that could splinter the Arab-Western coalition opposing Iraq. It also marked the first time that U.S. combat troops have been assigned to duty in Israel.
The effort to bolster Israel’s anti-missile defenses came as U.S. and allied warplanes continued to scour Iraq and Kuwait for elusive Scud mobile missile launchers and escalated their bombardment campaign against Iraqi ground troops and their logistic support sites.
Iraq’s elite Republican Guard, considered the most capable of President Saddam Hussein’s troops, came under heavy fire in their positions in southern Iraq and northern Kuwait, while U.S. B-52 bombers began attacking Iraqi defenses farther south. Pentagon officials said American and allied pilots had flown 4,700 sorties during the first three days of the conflict. A total of 216 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired from U.S. warships at targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
Meanwhile, the first Iraqi prisoners of war were taken by the allied coalition. In a joint operation off the coast of Kuwait, American and Kuwaiti forces captured 12 Iraqi soldiers who had been using oil platforms to fire antiaircraft guns at allied aircraft.
The U.S. frigate Nicholas, in conjunction with a Kuwaiti patrol boat, captured the 12 Iraqis on nine platforms, U.S. officials said. Saudi Arabia, as the host country for the allied forces, is expected to care for all prisoners of war taken in the conflict.
U.S. Marines also engaged in minor skirmishes with Iraqi troops on the Kuwaiti border, prompting air strikes against positions north of the border that reportedly killed at least 40 Iraqis.
Two Marines were also wounded Saturday by Iraqi shelling along the border.
The intensive air war claimed three more U.S. warplanes Saturday, bringing to six the number of American planes lost so far. The Pentagon lists nine U.S. airmen as missing, one of whom earlier had been declared dead. One of the planes lost Saturday, an F-4G Wild Weasel fighter, was downed by engine failure, the Pentagon said, while the others were shot down.
The two Air Force crewmen on the F-4G safely ejected and parachuted onto Saudi soil, where they were picked up and returned to base, Pentagon officials said.
Two of the missing U.S. airmen are Lt. Col. Clifford Acree, 39, and Chief Warrant Officer Guy Hunter, 46, both Marines from Camp Pendleton who were flying a military reconnaissance plane while directing fire against Iraqi targets in Kuwait.
Three other members of the allied coalition also have lost aircraft: Two British Tornado fighter bombers with two-man crews are missing, along with an Italian Tornado and its two-man crew and a Kuwaiti A-4 jet and its pilot.
U.S. officials said that allied pilots have downed a total of 10 Iraqi aircraft in a series of aerial dogfights. While most of Iraq’s 700-plane air force remains intact, Pentagon officials declared they had achieved near-mastery of the skies over Kuwait and Iraq.
“We have the capability to gain and maintain air superiority in any sector of Iraq in which we wish to operate,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Kelly, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Their air defense system is no longer successful in major portions of the country.”
The White House said that Operation Desert Storm has achieved “a fairly complete success” in knocking out Iraqi air defenses. “There have obviously been major disruptions” in Iraqi command and control operations, said White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney authorized the military services to call an additional 170,750 National Guard and reserve troops to active duty in the Persian Gulf conflict. It was the first indication of how many reservists could be mobilized to replace combat casualties if a large-scale ground offensive began exacting a heavy toll.
To date, the Pentagon has called 161,887 citizen-soldiers to active duty in Operation Desert Storm, bringing the war home to thousands of communities around the nation and causing significant economic disruptions to families and employers.
President Bush, who is spending the three-day weekend at Camp David, Md., met for about two hours Saturday with senior members of his national security team, receiving a report that “significant military achievements have been recorded,” Fitzwater said.
According to Fitzwater, Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Bush that many strategic objectives were achieved during the first three days, referring to the damage inflicted on Iraq’s air defense and command and control operations.
Military officials claimed more modest success, however, in their search for the Scud missile launchers that have sent nervous civilians in both Saudi Arabia and Israel scurrying to bomb shelters for the last three days.
Bad weather has hampered efforts to find the truck-mounted missiles, thwarting both satellites and reconnaissance planes in their high-altitude searches. But military officials drew some encouragement from the fact that only three Scuds were launched early Saturday after eight had been launched on Friday--seven against Israel and one toward Saudi Arabia.
The Administration continued to fret over the impact that continuing Scud attacks could have on the 28-nation military coalition arrayed against Iraq. Officials said the emergency transfer of Patriot air-defense units, which are designed to pick off missiles in mid-flight, should ease pressures on Israel to retaliate. An Israeli entry into the war--considered one of Hussein’s key objectives--could open major rifts in the alliance at a crucial time.
American officials said they had neither sought nor received assurances from Israel that the additional protection to be provided by the Patriot missile batteries would prevent Israeli retaliation for the missile attacks.
“The more we can succeed in stopping these missiles from reaching Israel, the more Israel can afford to exercise restraint,” said a senior Pentagon official. “But it’s not a quid pro quo.”
Bush spoke twice by telephone Saturday with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, first around 3 a.m. EST and then at 11:30 a.m. EST. The first call, placed shortly after the missiles struck Tel Aviv, was intended “to show our commitment to protect them was firm,” Fitzwater said. The second call, the spokesman said, was placed to express Bush’s appreciation for Israel’s restraint in not retaliating and to seek its continued forebearance.
“I understand the anguish of your people and your government,” Bush was said by Fitzwater to have told Shamir. “We will use every resource possible to suppress and destroy the mobile Scuds.”
Later Saturday, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger headed to Israel for talks to coordinate U.S. and Israeli policy “in light of the Scud missile attacks,” the White House said without elaborating. In Tel Aviv, Israeli officials warned the nation to expect more incoming missiles, perhaps armed with chemical warheads. In a statement, Brig. General Nachman Shai, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said the attacks were causing Israelis to face a “new kind of war.”
His grim warning came as senior government ministers discussed whether to mount a retaliatory attack. Israeli officials said privately that Washington was still trying to dissuade Jerusalem from counterattacking.
But some senior sources indicated that the consensus of Israeli officials was shifting toward launching a major air or missile strike against Iraq.
Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that despite the U.S. desire for restraint, Israeli retaliation is likely. “We woke up this morning under attack,” he said. “It is difficult to run a country this way. Every country has the right to self-defense. We will do what we think necessary in response.”
A senior Administration official said that while the Israelis had demonstrated considerable restraint in their response to the missile attacks, it was “a given” that Israel would retaliate if attacked with chemical weapons. And that restraint, the official added, would not necessarily continue “if they are hit again” with conventional munitions.
The issue is politically sensitive because an ironclad promise not to retaliate would be certain to stir controversy in Israel, as well as to serve as an invitation to Iraq to launch more missiles. At the same time, a public promise to retaliate would threaten the cohesion of the anti-Iraq alliance.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations met for a short time with the president of the Security Council to discuss several fledgling peace initiatives. But there was no indication of immediate progress, and Ambassador Abdul Amir Anbari said he was having difficulty communicating with Baghdad.
“We have not had any fax, telex or telephone for the last two days,” he said.
Zairian Ambassador Magbeni Adeito Nzengeya, who heads the council this month, said he called on Anbari to get reaction from Iraqi President Hussein for an Algerian plan for a four-day pause in the war and a Soviet proposal calling once again for withdrawal from Kuwait.
Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams warned that the Patriot missiles, which are in wide use by U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, would not provide a “foolproof defense” for Israel. But he said U.S. and allied forces will continue their hunt for mobile launchers throughout western Iraq in an effort to prevent additional missile attacks.
The two Patriot batteries and the roughly 30 U.S. Army personnel needed to operate them arrived in Israel on Saturday and became operational almost immediately, defense officials said. Williams said a team of Israeli military personnel currently receiving instruction in Texas on how to operate the Patriot system will be trained as quickly as possible, so they will be able to take over the air defense operations.
While Israel received four Patriot firing units from the United States in early January, the units are capable of shooting down aircraft only and could not be used against Iraqi missiles. The units were not scheduled to be upgraded with special equipment that would enable them to track and destroy missiles until April.
During the months that Israel has waited to receive the anti-missile units and personnel, the U.S. Army had given first priority to deploying missile defense equipment to protect American units in Saudi Arabia. Early Friday, a Patriot missile unit in eastern Saudi Arabia intercepted and destroyed a Scud missile launched toward the coastal city of Dhahran, a major staging area for U.S. military forces.
Geoff Kemp, a former National Security Council aide in the Reagan Administration, noted that the Patriot batteries cannot provide a foolproof defense from additional Iraqi missile attacks because of the size of the potential target areas.
“The Patriot is an extremely sophisticated system, but its primary mission is to protect air bases, not huge metropolitan areas like Tel Aviv.” said Kemp, director of Middle East affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The system is so advanced that any incoming missile that comes within its radar profile will be identified and almost certainly destroyed. But the question is . . . how much of the urban area is protected.”
At least eight of the more than two dozen remaining Iraqi mobile Scud launchers were eliminated by U.S. forces on Friday, three of them destroyed by A-10 Warthog tank-killers dispatched after the initial round of seven Scuds struck Tel Aviv early Friday.
Capt. Mark Koechle, an A-10 pilot, took out two of the launchers in a mission that spanned a tense half-hour in the Iraqi desert, in part because of poor visibility.
“You bet it was thrilling,” Koechle said. “I was apprehensive going to the target, but once I got there, I just went about my business.”
A videotape of the mission from inside the cockpit showed two blips appearing on the monitor as the aircraft dropped down through the clouds at the coordinates given for the probable Scud locations. “Looks like a Scud. That’s what he’s supposed to be,” Koechle is heard saying on the tape.
Koechle pulled the aircraft up and around, came back over the missile site and fired off a Maverick air-to-surface missile. The Maverick hit its target, but failed to detonate.
Lt. Don Henry, the pilot who took out the third launcher, couldn’t fire his first missile because of a battery problem.
Additional missiles and bombs fired by both pilots eventually found their targets and destroyed them.
Henry looked back, and saw his missile making contact with the Scud.
“Basically, it made a large black mushroom cloud about the size of a school bus in diameter. And then it dissipated, and all that was left was a crater,” he said.
Henry said he was elated after the hit, which came on his first combat mission. “This is the most thrilling and satisfying thing, knowing I could have saved many, many lives,” he said.
U.S. officials later determined that the Scuds were aimed at targets in Saudi Arabia, according to Central Command officials in Riyadh.
Two squadrons of F-16A fighter-bombers went out at midday Saturday seeking additional Scud targets after being grounded for a day on Friday by poor visibility.
Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities Saturday ordered all remaining foreign journalists out of the country.
Staff writers James Gerstenzang, Paul Houston and Robin Wright in Washington and Kim Murphy in Saudi Arabia contributed to this report.
Encounters in the Gulf
A) Officers at the 1st Marine Division said that on Friday, along the Kuwaiti-Saudi border, Marines came under small-arms fire. U.S. helicopters and attack planes pounded positions inside Kuwait. There were no U.S. casualties but about 40 Iraqis were killed in the air strikes.
B) On Friday night, the guided missile frigate Nicholas, Army helicopters and a Kuwaiti patrol boat took out Iraqi forces firing from nine oil platforms off Kuwait. The Iraqi forces had been firing on allied aircraft with anti-aircraft artillery and shoulder fired missiles. About 12 prisoners were taken.
C) U.S. Marine Harrier planes destroyed an Iraqi communications center just inside Occupied Kuwait Saturday, their commander said. Marine pilots said they believed the post hit Saturday directed the artillery fire that had injured two Marines earlier. It was only the second time that Harriers, which can land and take off vertically, were being used in combat. Britain’s Royal Air Force used Harries during the 1982 Falklands war with Argentina.
Source: International Petroleum Encyclopedia
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